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Salesman Wins Termination Suit

April 19, 1996

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury Thursday awarded $1.5 million to a former Universal City car salesman, who said he was fired for refusing to alter customers' credit applications or take part in a "bait-and-switch" scheme.

Christopher Lesbines, 39, former new car sales manager at Universal City Nissan, sued the dealership for firing him in 1994. The jury awarded him $600,000 for lost wages and emotional distress and $900,000 in punitive damages.

On one occasion, according to Lesbines' attorney, Brian Panish, the dealership did not want to lease a vehicle at the advertised price. So, he said, Lesbines was asked to alter a credit application so the customer would be denied credit. Panish said Lesbines was also asked to change or forge credit applications.

After a three-week trial, Panish said, the jury found that the dealership had engaged in fraud, oppression and malice in terminating Lesbines, formerly of North Hollywood, who now lives in New York City.

"I believe that the jury sent a clear message that employees should follow the law, and those that don't will be held accountable," Panish said.

He said Lesbines "felt vindicated" by the verdict. "He hopes that people won't hesitate to object when they see illegal activities."

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