Man files complaint alleging racial bias

September 20, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

A 31-year-old Annapolis man has filed a complaint with the state Human Relations Commission alleging that he was victim of racial discrimination and unfair labor practices when he was fired from an Annapolis car dealership last spring.

William B. Gross of the 1200 block of Tyler Ave. alleges that while he worked at Criswell Acura, 1701 West St., he was a target for racist jokes, racist literature and inequitable treatment because he is black.

Mr. Gross, who has two children, said he reconditioned cars for the dealership from September 1993 to May 13, 1994.

He said that when he saw his position advertised in an Annapolis newspaper in April 1994, he confronted his supervisors and was told they were just "taking applications" for future openings.

At that point, he applied for work at another dealership and learned that the terms under which was hired -- requiring him to work 48 hours a week for a $350 salary and no overtime -- were illegal.

Gaston Sigur, an assistant attorney general for the state Department of Licensing and Regulation, said state and federal laws entitle a worker to time and a half if he works more than 40 hours in a week, unless he falls into certain categories.

"If he's not management and he's not an independent contractor, then he's supposed to be paid time and a half," Mr. Sigur said.

Mr. Gross said he does not fall into either of those two categories but that when he confronted his supervisors about the overtime, they refused to change his payroll status, refused to pay him overtime and continued to cut his pay if he worked less than six days a week.

Mr. Gross said he was fired May 13 when he asked the dealership's bookkeeper for wage verification paperwork.

"It was like a living hell to me, and it still is," said Mr. Gross. "It just doesn't seem fair."

According to the complaint Mr. Gross filed with the Human Relations Commission the day he was fired, he and a handful of other black employees were targets of racist behavior by white employees in the weeks before he was fired.

On May 8, according to the complaint, a racist cartoon was circulated in the dealership, and when Mr. Gross saw it, he took it to a service manager, who "laughed" at it and tore it up.

Mr. Gross said that Peter Meith, the dealership's general manager, handed him another racist cartoon on May 10 "as a joke."

"I didn't think it was funny at all," Mr. Gross said yesterday.

Mr. Gross kept the cartoon, a sketch of some rats with the names of three of Criswell's black employees written on them.

There also were frequent jokes about blacks being "Brillo heads" about the black employees being "the black caucus" and comments that there were "too many blacks" working at the dealership, according to the complaint.

Mr. Meith declined to comment yesterday, referring questions to the company's Bowie-based insurance carrier, Universal Underwriters.

A spokesman for the insurance carrier also declined comment.

Mr. Gross said he is asking the commission to order Criswell to give him $1,069 in back pay for the overtime he says he worked.

After he was fired, Mr. Gross said, he was out of work for three months and his family of four survived on what he earned reconditioning cars privately, unemployment benefits and his wife's salary as a teacher's aide at Central Middle School in Annapolis.

He now earns $250 a week as a housekeeper for the state Department of General Services.

It was the principle involved, not the money, that motivated him to file the complaint, he said.

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