The finance manager of a Subaru dealership in Oregon City has filed a federal lawsuit against the dealership’s former general manager, accusing him of sharing highly offensive and racist remarks and text messages with other employees.
The suit alleges Lithia SOC, doing business as Lithia Subaru of Oregon City, and its employees engaged in racial discrimination and subjected the finance manager, Tobias Ray, who is Black, to a hostile work environment and retaliation by taking actions to ostracize him from other employees and undermine his success.
Attorney Todd A. Hanchett, representing Lithia Subaru, released a statement from the Oregon City dealership in response: “Oregon City Subaru strives to maintain a work environment that is free from harassment or discrimination and in which people are treated with dignity and respect. Given that litigation has been commenced, the company cannot comment on the allegations in the case, but Oregon City Subaru takes these allegations seriously.”
Tony Jiminez, who was general manager of the dealership in the summer of 2020, sent a sexually suggestive and racially insensitive photo by text to select employees shortly after the videotaped May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd, the suit says. Floyd, a Black man, died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.
The photo shared on June 15, 2020, showed a naked white man from chest up lying on the lap of a nude Black woman, her breasts concealing his face, with the message, “This white man cant (sic) brethe. But you won’t see that on the news.” In the lower lefthand corner of the messaging icon was the Subaru emblem, according to the suit.
Also that month, Ray found on a whiteboard in the dealership’s break room a racially offensive drawing that depicted a stick figure with an Afro hairstyle and a caption that read, “I love watermelon,” according to the suit. The whiteboard could be seen by all employees, Ray noted.
The next month, Ray discovered other derogatory text messages that Jimenez had shared with the dealership’s general sales manager, Corey Fay, and Lithia’s sales manager, Ryan Vaughan, mocking Ray’s casual dress during a visit he made to the dealership on his day off, according to the suit.
Jimenez likened Ray’s outfit to that from the film “New Jack City,” which features a cast of Black actors, and Vaughn made a derogatory remark suggesting that if the lights were shut off in Ray’s office, he wouldn’t be seen in the dark, according to the suit.
In August 2020, Jimenez engaged in racist stereotyping, the suit says, when he asked Ray to handle the financing for a customer named Rodney King and suggested Ray ask the customer, “Can’t we all just get along?” Jimenez later asked Ray if the customer appeared “slow” and suggested the customer had been “hit in the head with a club one too many times,” according to the suit.
Rodney Glen King, a Black man, was a victim of Los Angeles police brutality in March 1991. King was savagely beaten by officers who kicked him repeatedly and struck him with batons during his arrest after a high-speed chase. The arrest was caught on camera by an observer.
Ray submitted a written complaint to his employer on On Oct. 30, 2020, and participated in an internal investigation that determined his complaints had merit, according to the suit.
But while Lithia provided new diversity awareness training for staff, it failed to take disciplinary action against Jimenez or thwart further acts of racial discrimination, the suit contends.
Jimenez no longer works at the dealership; the circumstances of his departure aren’t clear. Jimenez didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Ray has worked as the dealership’s finance manager since October 2018 and remains employed at the dealership, according to his lawyers, Brian L. Dolman and Erin Norgaard, of Seattle.
He is seeking unspecified damages for lost earnings, lost advancement and emotional distress in the suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.
— Maxine Bernstein
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