CLEARWATER — Three former employees of Larry Dimmitt Cadillac who were laid off last year have filed a lawsuit against the auto dealership, charging age discrimination.
In January, the men also filed charges against the dealership with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal anti-discrimination laws.
In the EEOC filings, the men allege both age and religious discrimination, saying they were targeted for not attending weekly prayer gatherings of dealership employees.
The men are Michael Stanton, 55, of New Port Richey, who directed new car sales; Tom May, 58, of Palm Harbor, who was used car manager; and Brad Worth, 55, of Clearwater, who directed Internet sales.
The men referred questions to their attorney, Greg Owens of the Palm Harbor firm Florin Roebig.
"Each of them feel that their age was a substantial and motivating factor," in their dismissals, Owens said. "And certainly the law says it's illegal to discriminate against somebody in the workplace because of their age."
Calls placed Monday and Tuesday to a Dimmitt manager were not returned. The dealership is located on U.S. 19 north of Sunset Point Road.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court in late April, Dimmitt management let the men go between June and November of last year, telling them the company couldn't afford their positions any longer.
Owens said the jobs the men held were given to other, "substantially younger," employees.
The lawsuit alleges that a Dimmitt manager "made comments and jokes" about certain workers being part of a "protected class," legal lingo for groups like older workers who enjoy anti-discrimination safeguards.
In the charges filed with the EEOC, the men say owners and managers at Dimmitt held prayer gatherings on Tuesdays. Though none of the men were told the meetings were mandatory, it was commonly thought that it "pays to pray," according to the filings.
"I was made to feel like an outsider if I didn't attend the prayer group meetings," Worth wrote in his EEOC charge. "I was often told that I would 'feel better' if I went."
Owens said he must wait 180 days from the time the EEOC charges were filed before making a claim of religious discrimination in state or federal court.
Depending on how the EEOC, which has been swamped with discrimination claims as job losses have grown, proceeds with his clients' charges, Owens said he may do so when the waiting period ends.
Meanwhile, other former Dimmitt workers could step forward.
"We're optimistic," Owens said. "We've been contacted by at least one other person who may be joining the lawsuit."
Will Van Sant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4166.