Black trainee charges Toyota firm with bias

June 11, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

An African-American who was fired from his management trainee job at Central Atlantic Toyota Distributors Inc. has sued the Baltimore-based company for race discrimination.

Clint Ramsey, a 27-year-old graduate of Howard University, filed a $10 million suit in Baltimore's federal District Court this week alleging the Japanese-owned company has a "policy, practice and custom of discriminating" against blacks.

James Olson, spokesman for Central Atlantic's owner, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., yesterday called the suit "frivolous."

Toyota has a good record of hiring and promoting minorities, he said, adding that Mr. Ramsey was appropriately fired because of a confrontation with his superiors.

Central Atlantic, which distributes Toyota cars and trucks to dealerships from Virginia to Pennsylvania, has 152 employees, of whom nine are black, he said. About 70 percent of the white and black management trainees win promotions.

Mr. Ramsey was hired in January 1992 as a management trainee by the parent company in Torrance, Calif.

When he was promoted to the Baltimore office in July 1992, he noticed he was the only black management trainee, and that he was treated differently, the suit charged.

Mr. Ramsey, a football player who had tried out for the New York Giants in 1991, said his white superiors sometimes called him "boy," and asked him to perform menial tasks such as loading boxes. White trainees who arrived after him were promoted ahead of him, the suit said.

When he complained that he was being treated differently because of his race, they suggested he resign, or transfer to San Francisco, where there was a black manager, the suit said.

He began to suffer headaches and nosebleeds because of stress he felt while trying to win a promotion and was fired on Aug. 26, 1993, for leaving work early, he said.

"I was devastated," he said in a telephone interview from his Pittsburgh home.

Toshihiro Nishguchi, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor who has written about Japanese management, said FTC Toyota has been criticized in the past for discriminating against women and blacks.

For example, he said, in the mid-1980s, one study found that the company put its plants in mostly white areas. The company has responded to the criticism by recruiting minorities, he said.

But, he said, Japanese companies continue to struggle with race relations in the United States because "for 2,000 years, the Japanese were so isolated."

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