Norfolk Sexual Harassment Case Settled On Courthouse Steps

A Lincoln-Mercury dealer in the Virginia Beach area has settled a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a former employee who claimed that she was subjected to a campaign of sexual harassment by the dealership’s general manager.

On March 4, 2011, Carla Mercado, who worked as a car saleswoman until she was fired in March 2009, sued Lynnhaven Lincoln-Mercury Inc. for sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, asserting that Juan Lewis, the general manager, repeatedly groped her and made unwanted sexual advances and suggestions. On October 21, 2011, U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson denied Lynnhaven’s motion for summary judgment and its partial motion to dismiss the complaint. Faced with having a jury decide the merits of Ms. Mercado’s claims, the parties mutually decided to settle the case on the courthouse steps, the day the trial was scheduled to begin.

According to the complaint, Lewis repeatedly made remarks of a sexual nature to Mercado on the job and asked her to have oral sex with him. On one occasion, according to the complaint, he told her that the only way she would get a promotion is if she performed that sexual act on him. At one time, the complaint reads, he forcibly kissed her. These comments and actions,Dance or Fight.jpg the complaint says, “were an integral part of Juan Lewis’s custom, business practice, and course of dealing with certain women at Lincoln-Mercury, while fulfilling his role as General Manager at the dealership.”

Then, the complaint alleges, when Mercado rebuffed Lewis’s advances, he and other employees of the dealership “commenced a campaign of retaliatory action” against her, including increasing her Sunday hours, rejecting her “deals” for vehicles and diverting them to other salespeople, and refusing to engage her in conversation. Ultimately, according to the complaint, she was terminated in retaliation for failing to comply with Lewis’s sexual demands.

Mercado sued for hostile work environment sexual harassment, quid pro quo discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. She sought damages of up to $5 million.

The dealership responded that Mercado was actually fired for not coming to work on Sundays and that it has a policy of treating unexcused absences as equivalent to a resignation. It also responded that at no point did the harassment affect a “tangible employment action” and that it was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to satisfy the law’s requirements.

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