Two former employees of Mercedes-Benz Manhattan say they were subjected to racism at the factory-owned dealership then fired for complaining to superiors about it.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in New York charges that Burnell Guyton, 54, and Andre Grammer, 44, both black, found racist graffiti on several occasions in a bathroom stall used by employees.
The graffiti consisted of swastikas, a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a noose with Guyton's name below it, graphic sexual drawings and racially derogatory statements etched into the stall, according to the lawsuit.
"We were fired because we were standing up for our rights," Grammer said in an interview.
The dealership denies the charges.
In an e-mailed statement, dealership management wrote that the allegations are baseless, which will be proved in court. "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."
In an interview, Guyton said he has worked in the auto industry for nearly 30 years and had owned three dealerships before joining Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes-Benz Manhattan is the only store owned and operated by Mercedes-Benz USA. In August 2008, the dealership hired Guyton as the fixed operations director. He managed about 150 employees, he says.
"When I first got there, I heard rumors of what certain people might say about an African-American running fixed operations. But it was just hearsay," Guyton says. "Around the second year, when the writing started to show up, then it really hit home when you can read it on the wall."
Guyton and Grammer complained to superiors about the graffiti, the lawsuit says. The store painted over the graffiti, but the etchings were still visible and the dealership did not replace the stall, the lawsuit says. "When you figure you're at a company that sells a luxury product, you'd think the personnel would mirror what the brand stands for," Grammer says. "I was very shocked."
The two were ostracized after they complained, the lawsuit says.
In April 2011, Grammer, a service consultant, offered his resignation to Guyton, who tried to get him to stay, saying he'd address the discrimination, the lawsuit says. But Guyton was fired the same day even though his department had had two of its most profitable years under his leadership, the lawsuit says.
Grammer was fired minutes after Guyton, the lawsuit says.