Four black Gerry Lane Enterprises salesmen and a former white salesman filed suit Thursday against the vehicle dealership and owner Gerry Lane, claiming racial discrimination and harassment have created a hostile work environment.
The five plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit, filed in 19th Judicial District Court, that Lane harasses black salesmen “on a weekly if not daily basis.’’
“He refers to his car dealership as his ‘plantation’ and tells the sales staff to ‘pick his cotton’,’’ the suit contends.
The suit further claims Lane “regularly uses racial slurs, insults and innuendo toward the mostly black workforce’’ and personally stated in the presence of one of the plaintiffs, “You think I’m a racist! You’re damn right I’m a racist! I earned the right to be a racist.’’
The suit also alleges Lane “personally places his hands on people and invades their personal space and has tapped employees on the buttocks and genitalia.’’ The suit says one of Lane’s assistants also sexually harasses employees.
Eric Lane, vice president of Gerry Lane Enterprises, said Thursday the company is one of the most diverse organizations in Baton Rouge, is racially mixed, and enjoys a strong reputation in the community where it is heavily involved.
“We’re pretty shocked, actually,’’ he said of the lawsuit. “We certainly don’t advocate that. We’ll cooperate with anybody and everybody to get to the bottom of this.’’
The plaintiffs who are current Gerry Lane employees are Eric Angeletti, Timothy James, Justin Offord and Brian Thompson. The former employee is Marc Dileo, who is white and Italian. The suit claims Gerry Lane called him a “dago.’’
Dileo quit about three weeks after he was hired last fall because of “abuse and hostility which was so extreme that no reasonable person should be forced to endure,’’ the suit states.
The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers Joe Long and Jean-Paul Robert.
“This is as egregious as we’ve ever seen,’’ Long said.
Long did not rule out the possibility of filing a companion suit in U.S. District Court.
The suit claims Gerry Lane repeatedly calls Angeletti “dago New Orleans 9th Ward trash,’’ and says Lane has told him that a “runaway slave could sell more cars than you.’’ Angeletti is black with some Italian heritage, the suit says.
Gerry Lane also told Thompson during the 2011 holiday season, “Black Friday, you probably think that holiday is for you,’’ the suit alleges.
The suit, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages, has been assigned to state District Judge Tim Kelley.