White Employee Wore Gorilla Suit To Work, ‘Mocked’ Black Coworker: Lawsuit

A former Black general sales manager for an automotive dealership in Missouri claims a white coworker wore a gorilla suit to “mock” him in a lawsuit.

According to the Atlanta Black Star, Darwin Cunningham and Justin Norvell, two Black men who formerly served as general sales managers at Ed Napleton Automotive Group, filed a lawsuit against the company last December, alleging racial discrimination.

Cunningham and Norvell allege they maintained “exceptional performance” at the dealership, but were treated “differently and less well” than their white counterparts.

In one instance, a white salesperson wore a gorilla suit to work and “mocked” Norvell in 2021, according to the lawsuit. Norvell reported the incident to his superiors, but the company declined to take “corrective action,” the suit states.

Cunningham and Norvell also claim they were paid less of the monthly gross sales and finance than their white colleagues.

According to the suit, the pair’s work environment grew more hostile in July 2022, when Napleton Automotive Group named Todd Flowers and Don Vannatta, both of whom are white, as regional managers.

The newly-appointed regional mangers “began a targeted campaign to create what they described as a ‘culture change’ at Napleton Mid Rivers Kia,” the lawsuit states.

Vannatta was allegedly overhead saying, “We want to keep North County North County, and St. Peters St. Peters,” referring to keeping the predominately Black population of North County separate from the mostly-white St. Peters.

According to the lawsuit, the two regional managers only hired and promoted white salespeople at the dealership. Vannatta and Flowers also allegedly enforced new dress code rules that targeted Black employees, including prohibiting athletic shoes.

Despite never being “disciplined, counseled, or warned” about defenciences in performance, Cunnigham and Norvell were fired on October 24, 2022.

Napleton Automotive Group’s conduct was “outrageous and undertaken willfully, wantonly, maliciously, with evil motive, and with reckless disregard and indifference for the rights,” the suit states.

The lawsuit requests a jury trial to determine damages and injunctive relief.

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