A former car salesman at Lee Partyka Chevrolet is suing the dealership for civil rights violations, claiming he lost his job after complaining about the general manager’s alleged constant use of “boy” to refer to black employees and customers.
Dennis Bellamy’s lawsuit paints a picture of the Hamden business as a hostile workplace, where general manager Joe Gallagi threatened to withhold bonuses from employees who took offense.
It alleges Gallagi called Bellamy, who is black, a “boy” or a “good boy” on several occasions.
“Mr. Gallagi stated that he did not appreciate being told that the word in such a context was considered racist,” according to the complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. “And if people thought it was racist, ‘F— them all.’”
Bellamy started work at Lee Partyka Chevrolet in May 2016, and earned “better than satisfactory” reviews, according to his lawsuit. But about eight months later, dealership administrators informed Bellamy he “was being involuntarily terminated for ‘attitude,’” according to the complaint.
Bellamy claims he lost his job after he telephoned Gallagi one evening to say black employees felt uncomfortable when the manager used “‘boy’ to refer to men of color.”
Bellamy’s attorney, John Williams, said it’s not clear if Gallagi used the term to refer to white employees and customers.
The lawsuit says Partyka Chevrolet did nothing to stop the alleged discrimination. It suggests Gallagi doubled down, and said he’d been calling people “boy” his entire life. At a general sales meeting in January 2017, the manager told staff who might have taken offense, ”This is probably not the right job for you.”
The lawsuit alleges the dealership’s finance manager, Andrew Quentin, backed Gallagi during that meeting. It claims Quentin said those objecting to Gallagi’s use of “boy” were “pathetic.”
“We don’t want you here,” the suit quotes Quentin as saying. “You should leave right now.”
The company fired Bellamy soon after the sales meeting in January 2017.
Quentin no longer works for the dealership. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Gallagi did not respond to a request for comment, but the dealership’s general counsel, Anthony DeChello of the DeChello Law Firm in New Haven, sent an emailed statement.
“Our client denies the allegations in their entirety and plans to defend this matter vigorously in court,” DeChello wrote.
Civil rights and employment attorneys not involved in the litigation said outright racial comments like the ones allegedly spoken in the open at Lee Partyka Chevrolet are rare in Connecticut in 2018. They said in most cases, racially charged comments are more discreet.
“This is kind of shocking because, while there are unfortunately still a lot of racist attitudes out there, they tend to be more subtle,” said Milford solo practitioner Anthony Pantuso III. “People do not use the N-word anymore. This case is definitely surprising. I handle a lot of discrimination … but nothing this overt.”
Ryan O’Neill, an employment attorney with The Law Offices of Mark Sherman in Stamford, said he believes Bellamy could prevail.
“I think he has a very strong case,” O’Neill said. “What the general manager said was problematic.”
The federal lawsuit cites violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and of Title 28 of the United State Code.
Bellamy’s lawyer said his client wanted to resolve the case and not file a lawsuit. But he said the dealership made it clear they were not going to settle during a mediation conference call with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Boston on Dec. 21, 2017.
“The mediation went nowhere,” said Williams, an attorney for more than 50 years and head of John R. Williams & Associates in New Haven. “It was two to three hours and it just fell apart. They would not do anything to address the issue. It was all very surprising. I was surprised and even the mediator was surprised.”
Andrew Sharp, managing attorney at the Law Offices of Sharp & Shields in Rocky Hill, represented Gallagi at the mediation conference. He declined to comment Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Williams said Bellamy collected unemployment for a few months until finding his current job as a public school teacher in Bridgeport. The lawsuit seeks attorney fees and punitive and compensatory damages. It also seeks a temporary and permanent injunction requiring the dealership to reinstate Bellamy with full back pay and benefits, retroactive to the date of his termination.
Williams said it’s not clear how much money Bellamy would claim, but said his client earns about $20,000 a year less as a teacher than as a car salesman.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill in Bridgeport.