Fremont Toyota was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in federal court in San Francisco today over an incident in which the dealership's former general manager allegedly called four Afghan-American salesmen "terrorists."
The lawsuit claims that Fremont Toyota, officially known as Fremont Automobile Dealership LLC, violated U.S. civil rights law by allowing harassment of the four salesmen on the basis of their national origin.
EEOC attorney Raymond Cheung said the former general manager, Tom Cogliano, made the alleged "terrorist" comment during a staff meeting in October 2007 at which he allegedly also called himself a dictator.
The lawsuit alleges the manager created a hostile and abusive work environment for the four Afghan-Americans by "calling them 'terrorists' and threatening to blow them up with a grenade (and) yelling and swearing at them."
The salesmen felt they had no option other than to resign, which they did a week later, the EEOC said.
The lawsuit also alleges that a fifth Afghan-American, who was a mid-level manager, was unfairly fired in December 2007 in retaliation for reporting the alleged harassment to the general manager and the dealership's finance manager.
The lawsuit seeks a financial award of back pay and punitive damages for the five men, along with a court order barring the dealership from engaging in harassment on the basis of national origin.
The four former salesman are Faisal Lamar, Mohammad Sarwary, Ahmad Shekeeb and Aziz Raufi, and the former mid-level manager is Ibrahim Faizi.
Sarwary said in a statement, "My family fled Afghanistan because of the terrorism, dictatorship and lack of freedom there.
"Now in America, this man lashes out at us out in front of all of our coworkers, calling us 'terrorists' and proclaiming himself 'dictator' here at Fremont Toyota," the former salesman said.
The dealership's current general manager was not immediately available for comment on the lawsuit.
Fremont has the largest concentration of residents of Afghan descent in the nation.
The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero and is scheduled for a case management hearing in December.