Two women have filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against Van Nuys-based Keyes Motors, alleging they were sexually harassed by a manager at the dealership and that they were paid less than their male colleagues, an attorney said Wednesday.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court seeks unspecified money damages and attorney fees, said Barbara Hadsell, the women's attorney. It named as defendants Keyes Motors Inc., Keyes European, Keyes Mazda, the company's owner and president Howard A. Keyes, vice president of operations Larry Abramson, sales and finance coordinator Joe Aleccia, Keyes European general manager Tom Kasra and another 100 unnamed defendants.
Abramson denied the allegations.
"Keyes Motors believes the complaint is without merit and we intend to defend the case vigorously," Abramson said. "The company is strongly committed to a harassment-free and discrimination-free workplace."
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Catharine Molnar and another unnamed plaintiff alleges sexual discrimination and harassment and retaliation, Hadsell said.
The suit alleges that from May through September of 1991, Molnar, then a new car sales manager for Keyes Mazda, was sexually harassed by Kasra, who remains in his position as Keyes European general manager. The suit alleged that Kasra pitched coins down the front of Molnar's blouse, repeatedly tried to touch Molnar's legs and on one occasion, despite her resistance, kissed her.
In August of 1991, Molnar complained to Keyes executives, the suit said.
Molnar received a copy of the findings of a company investigation, which corroborated most of her complaints, Hadsell said. But the lawsuit alleges that despite their findings, company executives failed to protect her from retaliation.
"I would say on paper they wanted to give the impression they were dealing with it, but in fact I think they made up their minds very early on that Molnar's complaints meant that she could no longer be trusted and that she was disloyal and that they wanted her out," Hadsell said.
Abramson said, "The company promptly investigated the complaint and disciplined" Kasra, but he declined to describe the discipline.
Abramson said that since Molnar's complaint, there have been no incidents of other misconduct by Kasra.
After receiving the written report, the suit alleges that Molnar was given the choice of either continuing to work with Kasra or transferring to another dealership and that she chose the latter, despite having to establish herself with new employees and make new buyer contacts.
Molnar returned to work in September of 1991 as new car sales manager for Keyes Volvo, where over the next four months she became involved with a co-worker she planned to marry. According to the suit, when Molnar informed Aleccia, the sales and finance coordinator, of her plans, he stated to another company official that Molnar would be terminated.
Molnar was allowed to keep her job but was forced to transfer to Keyes European as the new car sales manager at that dealership, where her salary decreased by $1,500 a month, the suit alleges. At the same time, a male manager for the dealership's used car department was paid $1,000 more a month than Molnar and he received bonuses for cars sold, including those sold by Molnar, according to the suit.
The suit also alleges that rumors were circulated by the defendants that Molnar was a lesbian. The co-worker who she planned to marry also ended their relationship after he was threatened by company officials that he would lose his job if he continued to see Molnar, the suit alleged.
Since June, Molnar has been on paid stress leave from her job at Keyes, she said in an interview. "It was degrading and it was humiliating," said Molnar of her experience at Keyes Motors.
"I want the car business to come to the 21st Century by having equal pay for women and to treat them professionally," Molnar said.
The other unnamed woman on whose behalf the complaint was filed alleges that she too was sexually harassed by Kasra when she worked for Keyes Motors as a business manager from May, 1991, to May, 1992.
The lawsuit alleges that Kasra would grab the woman by the waist and lift her onto a counter top and order her to remain there while he laughed at her and encouraged other employees to laugh at her as well. Kasra is also accused in the suit of questioning the woman, who is a lesbian, about her sex life and describing his sexual experiences with women to her. In addition, he "traced a pencil around the periphery of her left breast," according to the suit.
The woman also was paid only half the amount of a male colleague with the same job responsibilities, according to the lawsuit. Despite repeated requests for equal pay, the woman continued to earn less than her male peer and later quit her job as a result, the suit maintains.