A Texas car salesman claims in a lawsuit that being the top salesman at a luxury dealership didn’t prevent him from getting fired.
Steven Calderone, 53, claims he was fired from the Sonic Houston JLR dealership for “insubordination” after violating the dealership’s rule of not selling to African-Americans.
According to Courthouse News Service, Calderone earned over $360,000 in commission a year from selling high end vehicles.
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Calderone says a black customer called Coach Henry put down $2,500 on a car, but claims his supervisors wouldn’t release the “buy order” because Henry was black.
“Henry was angry and told Calderone that the reason was racial discrimination, in these words: ‘Do I look like I have an ‘N’ painted on my chest? I’ve been dealing with this all my life. I know when I’m being sent to the back of the bus,'”the lawsuit alleges.
Calderone claims he also tried to sell cars to another black man and a Middle Eastern man, but the dealership again refused to sell to them.
Sonic profiles blacks as “exporters,” Calderone claims, which excludes them from buying new cars because Sonic thinks they can’t afford them and are buying them for shipment overseas.
Calderone said the dealership forced him to make black customers sign an “agreement not to export” and one customer, Theresa Blackwell, detected the racism of the agreement.
Blackwell, who in 2014 was shopping for a Land Rover, complained about Calderone.
“There was some assumption for whatever reason that was made that I could not afford the vehicle. I am still asking myself today what prompted that assumption but have chosen not to take that train of thought any further and just go with the fact that the guy is a general *ss,” Blackwell said of Calderone in an email, which he cites in the lawsuit.
Calderone, however, says he’d already complained about the discriminatory policy to finance manager Frank Pecka, and was yelled at over the complaint. That led Calderone to file a complaint with HR manager Marlena Warthen.
Calderone alleges that he was retaliated against after filing the complaint. He says mystery shoppers sent from company headquarters gave him negative reviews and he was also made to take a drug test.
During a conversation with Warthen about the investigation, Calderone says Warthen said to him, “You are insubordinate.”
Sonic fired Calderone three weeks later “because of the Theresa Blackwell complaint,” he says, even though the agreement Blackwell was being asked to sign was required by the dealership of all black customers.
Sonic denies the allegations.