Two employees of a Manhattan Mercedes-Benz dealership claim they were subject to racial discrimination at work and then fired after bringing this issue up with their superiors.
Burnell Guyton and Andre Grammer say they found grafitti in the showroom’s bathroom featuring swastikas, an image of a stick figure hanging from a noose, and phrases like "Burnell is a dumb as [sic] n*****," according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week. The two claim they were ultimately fired for complaining about the discrimination, despite their successful work performance.
"It really hurts to find out that you’re judged by the color of your skin and not by the quality of work that you bring to the table," Guyton told The Huffington Post, referring to when he first saw the bathroom graffiti.
A statement from Mercedes Benz Manhattan states that the company can't comment on the claims in detail due to ongoing litigation, but that "the allegations are completely baseless."
"We pride ourselves in providing an inclusive and supportive environment at Mercedes-Benz Manhattan," the statement said. "This lawsuit was originated by an employee who was terminated for cause and another one who voluntarily resigned without cause or provocation. That litigation ensued is not a surprise. When the matter goes before the court, and the facts are presented, it will be very clear that these allegations are without merit."
Before suing Mercedes, both men filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and both received “right to sue” letters from the agency, according to the suit.
Guyton, who had a 30-year career in the auto industry, including owning three dealerships before his time at Mercedes, said people were initially "resistent" when he was first hired as the only African-American manager in the showroom. He added that had heard racial discrimination being expressed verbally before the graffiti appeared.
"Once I saw it with my own eyes, it put reality in my face," Guyton told HuffPost.
After Guyton and Grammer complained, the graffiti was painted over and the dealership's director of human resources asked the employees near the bathroom to refrain from putting racist remarks on the stalls, according to the lawsuit. But the suit claims she didn’t make an effort to investigate the source of the graffiti, make any indication that the behavior wasn’t permitted by a anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy, or say that the behavior was unacceptable.
"It's just horrible," Guyton said. "You would think that we were past those times by now, but it was shocking to me."
In addition, the lawsuit claims the two felt ostracized after reporting the graffiti.
Guyton, who says he oversaw 150 employees, was asked by his manager to give higher performance scores to his non-minority employees, but not Grammer’s score, according to the suit. The suit also claims claims Guyton complained about being asked to raise the scores of only his non-minority employees, but his manager told him he had to do it anyway.
Guyton complained in writing about being required to change the evaluations of his non-minority employees and about the racist graffiti. Afterwards, the lawsuit alleges, he received a negative performance evaluation in retaliation. Soon, another set of racist remarks appeared in the bathroom stalls and they weren’t removed this time.
About one month later, Grammer offered his resignation to Guyton, who attempted to convince him to stay and said he would take care of the discrimination, according to the suit. But Guyton was fired later that same day, despite his unit having experienced two of its most profitable years while under his leadership, the lawsuit claims.
"The fact that I spoke up, and it was an environment where those types of activities were tolerated by all, I think had a great deal to do with me being terminated from the company," Guyton said.
Guyton, who has a wife and two children, said it was initially very difficult for him to find a job because he had admit on applications that he was asked to leave a company, which is a "red flag." He ultimately found another job in the auto industry, but it pays "nowhere near what I’m accustomed to making," he said.
Grammer was fired minutes after Guyton lost his job, the lawsuit claims. Shortly after the two were terminated, another racist remark appeared on the bathroom stall, and another employee of the dealership sent a photo of the graffiti to Grammer, according to the lawsuit. This time, it read, “so long coon.”