- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2015

A high-end car dealership in Houston, Texas, was sued in federal court this week by a former employee who claims he was retaliated against for objecting to a policy that allegedly prevented him from making deals with non-white customers.

An attorney for Steven A. Calderone said in a federal complaint filed on Tuesday that the luxury car lot, Sonic, terminated its top salesman in September 2014 shortly after he approached management about what he believed was racial discrimination occurring in the workplace.

Mr. Calderone, 53, said he was hired by Sonic in October 2013 to sell new Jaguars and Land Rovers, and in nine months’ time he had earned upwards of $343,000 through commission made as the lot’s top salesman. A series of events involving minority shoppers in mid-2014 prompted him to file a complaint with human resources, however, which he says subsequently led to his termination.

In a 20-page complaint filed in the Southern District of Texas, an attorney for Mr. Calderone alleges the dealership had adopted a blanket policy in which non-white customers were forbidden from buying cars from Sonic’s Houston lot.

“Simply put, non-white customers were labeled as ‘exporters’ and were not allowed to finance vehicles at the dealership, were not given the Buyer’s Order that would allow the customer to obtain financing through their own bank and were not permitted to purchase a vehicle even for cash,” lawyer Thomas Coleman wrote.

Mr. Calderone claims he personally had four sales fall through between July and August of 2014 because his superiors wouldn’t allow him to sell cars to minority customers, prompting him to file a complaint. In lieu of investigating, however, he alleges that Sonic instead launched a retaliatory investigation of its own that ended in Mr. Calderone’s termination roughly two weeks later.

“On July 29, 2014, Calderone first opposed the refusal of Management to sell and finance vehicles to qualified customers because of their race — Black. Mr. Calderone was terminated because of this opposition to discrimination in financing and because he refused to perform an illegal act — refusing to sell and finance vehicles to qualified customers because of their race,” the lawsuit claims.

“The evidence is overwhelming that at the very least, Calderone’s report to HR of his opposition to the racial profiling of his customers in financing and selling a vehicle was a motivating factor in his termination,” Mr. Coleman wrote in the complaint. Indeed, the legal filing acknowledges elsewhere that the Texas Workforce Commission has since ruled in favor of Mr. Calderone despite several hearings and appeals and has concluded that he was not fired from misconduct, as his former employer has claimed.

Mr. Calderone’s suit alleges violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and his attorneys are seeking roughly $15 million in compensation for anguish and lost income on behalf of Sonic’s one-time top-seller.

Both parties are expected back in court for a pretrial conference with Judge Lee Rosenthal on April 29.

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