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Adds Susan Weinberg: "It's not an occasional joke or comment. It's a way of business there, a way of life. It's like a whipping post. It was an ongoing, brutalizing experience."
But despite nonchalant use of derogatory language, the urination incident, and the fistfight, Noel, Molina, and the two other Cuban employees did not choose to quit. Instead they were all fired, Noel for "insubordination" in September 1999 and Molina and his two colleagues in the service department nearly one year later. In his lawsuit Noel charges that he was fired in retaliation for protesting to managers.
Discouraged from lodging formal complaints, fiercely loyal to the Lexus company, and desperate to keep high-paying jobs at a prestigious dealership, both Molina and Noel say they tried for years to ignore the barrage of insults. Molina points to his handsome $150,000 salary, the new Lexus demo he was given every six months, and the all-expenses-paid vacations he was awarded. "Terry was Terry, but it would just be impossible to find another job like that," Molina admits. "I would still be there putting up with this stuff because of the money, because of the benefits, because Lexus is a great manufacturer. They pay you -- you gotta put up with it."
Noel concurs. In a good year he too would bring home more than $100,000. "Terry Bean would leave and say, “Goodnight, everybody. I'm going to a KKK meeting.' What are you going to say to that? What are you going to do?" Noel asks. He pauses before answering his own question: "He's the owner's son. It's not easy getting to sell such a high-end car. So you sit there and take it. And that's the bottom line."
Noel notes another factor: Car salesmen often must rely on their managers for the deals that make or break their careers. "You see, the managers can make you a superstar," he explains. "So you wait for their calls and smile in their face after they call you a stupid spic because, meanwhile, they'll be handing you a deal."
After Noel was fired for insubordination in September 1999 (following a shouting match with Terry Bean), he believed he no longer had anything to lose. So he did what he'd been considering off and on for six years: He filed a complaint with the EEOC.
Lexus of Kendall's lawyer, Ken Knox, declined to comment on the allegations except to assert that Molina and the other two Cubans in the service department were fired for "misconduct" -- all on the same day. Instead Knox questions the motives of the former employees. "I think what we're seeing here is people who are lining up to take shots at the son of an owner of a successful business," he says. "Anyone can go down to the courthouse and file a lawsuit. Whether that has merit or not isn't determined until the case has gone a significant way through the process."
That process is in fact moving apace. Lance Noel already has a December court date for his lawsuit. Bolstered by the EEOC's finding that his civil rights likely were violated, Avraham Mardo's case entered a required period of negotiation in late February; should that not conclude satisfactorily, a courtroom trial will follow. Two weeks ago Jesus Molina and his two co-workers in the service department, Humfredo Perez and Felix Quevedo, were notified that the EEOC had found "reasonable cause" that a hostile work environment existed at Lexus of Kendall. Their cases now enter the negotiating period. Former saleswoman Susan Weinberg, who missed her opportunity to sue using the EEOC process, nonetheless remains involved in the overall proceedings. "I think it's important that people know what goes on there," she says. "But whether it'll make a difference, who knows? From my experience over there, they could care less."