Albuquerque car dealership Pitre Inc. has agreed to settle a same-sex sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for more than $2 million and a consent decree — the largest litigation settlement in the history of the EEOC’s Albuquerque area office.
Pitre’s attorney Sam Bregman said the settlement was not an admission of liability, but rather “a business decision.”
In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that a former lot manager and a general manager at the Eagle Ranch Road dealership subjected a class of men to egregious forms of sexual harassment over 10 years, which included shocking sexual comments, frequent solicitations for oral sex, and regular touching, grabbing and biting of male workers. The EEOC said its court action — filed in the fall of 2011 — also alleged that Pitre retaliated against male employees who objected to the sexually hostile work environment.
More than 50 men are expected to receive relief through the decree, according to the EEOC.
Bregman said Tuesday that the case involved “a lot of wild allegations … that simply aren’t true.” The decree stipulates that Pitre denies the allegations in the lawsuit.
“It was a business decision as far as the extensive, ongoing litigation,” he said. “(It was) just to put this matter behind the dealership, although we are very emphatic that Pitre Buick is a good place to work.”
At one point as the lawsuit was pending, a U.S. District Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against Pitre, prohibiting the dealership and all of its agents from threatening or engaging in retaliatory actions against case participants, the EEOC said. The lawsuit was filed after unsuccessful attempts to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The lot attendant at the center of the charges, James Gallegos, often was encouraged by management to harass other employees, the EEOC said. The lawsuit said the harassment continued even after the company reprimanded Gallegos, who was fired in 2010.
The original complaint said “newly hired employees were subjected to a car wash initiation that entailed forcing the new employee to ride in a locked vehicle through defendant’s car wash … while Gallegos exposed his genitals and attempted to grope and/or touch the new employee in a sexual manner.”
The lawsuit said multiple managers — including sales, service and human resources — “knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, of the hostile work environment created by Gallegos.”