Toyota showroom. Via wikimedia commons
Toyota showroom. Via wikimedia commons

The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an arbitrator, not a trial judge, should have decided whether a race discrimination case filed by a former sales manager at a Manhattan Beach Toyota dealership belonged in arbitration or the courts.

The high court’s ruling affirms an earlier decision by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Timothy Sandquist’s lawsuit against John Elway’s Manhattan Beach Toyota. The Supreme Court justices ordered the case back to the Superior Court, so that an arbitrator can be selected to decide whether the claims of Sandquist and others in his proposed class-action complaint should be determined on an individual or a class basis.

“Today’s decision is an important one for California workers subject to arbitration agreements by their employers,” said attorney Paul Bland on behalf of Sandquist. “Mr. Elway’s dealership tried to use its arbitration clause to block employees from banding together and to conceal just how pervasive the racist culture at (the business) had become. The court’s decision sends a clear message that employees and other groups who have been wronged do not waive their right to fight that injustice together simply because of a carefully worded fine print clause.”

Sandquist filed his suit in January 2012. Sandquist, who is black, was hired as a sales representative in 2000 and worked his way up to sales manager in early 2008. In the two years Sandquist served as general sales manager of the dealership,  the dealership had its most successful years, attaining the Toyota President’s Award, according to his lawsuit. Despite Sandquist’s success, he was routinely passed over for promotions, denied salary increases and harassed on the basis of his race, his lawsuit alleges. After persevering for four years against the ongoing discrimination and hostile work environment that permeated the former Denver Bronco quarterback’s dealership, he was forced to resign in 2011, the lawsuit alleges.

However, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle granted the dealership’s motion to compel arbitration, saying the plaintiff signed three arbitration agreements signed when he took the job. Sandquist maintained he did not realize he agreed to such provisions because he had to fill out numerous pages of paperwork in a short time.

The judge also dismissed the class claims, saying that since Sandquist would be subject to individual arbitration, he would no longer be able to serve as class representative for the suit.

Sandquist appealed and in June 2014, a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s rulings, finding that only an arbitrator could decide whether employees of the dealership had agreed to arbitrate class claims when they signed multiple arbitration agreements as part of the contract process required to work there.

The dealership then appealed to the high court, but Sandquist prevailed again in an opinion written by Justice Kathryn Werdegar.

–City News Service 

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