SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Payroll fraud, death threats and vile epithets by upper management rule the day at an East Bay Lexus dealership, former employees claim in a scathing federal class action.
Lead plaintiff Robert Brock Jr., six others and two of their wives sued Concord Automobile Dealership, Lexus of Concord and Toyota Motor Sales.
Also named as defendants are dealership owner Hank Torian, general sales manager Patrick Miliano and general manager Greg James.
According to the 78-page lawsuit, Brock and co-plaintiff Jeffery Lao discovered in February that their paychecks indicated higher bonus amounts - and higher payroll taxes - than they actually received.
Lao claims that he signed a voucher acknowledging receipt of a cash bonus of $875, but that the business office had a copy of a different voucher for the same transaction in the amount of $1,375. Someone forged Lao's signature, and increased his tax liability, by $500, the complaint states.
Brock says he complained to James, the general manager, in early February. Then after discovering that the same thing had happened to several employees - and repeatedly to each of them - Brock says, he went to James again.
At the second meeting, Brock says, he told James he had discovered that general sales manager Miliano was behind the payroll scheme. He also alerted James to Miliano's increasingly hostile behavior toward staff and customers, according to the complaint.
The defendants responded by changing Brock's schedule and demoting him to used car manager, the complaint states. In mid-March, an anonymous email to the dealership's human resources department implicated Miliano with turning in fake bonus vouchers and pocketing the cash, it states.
"On or about March 13, 2014, Miliano stormed into Brock's office and slammed a piece of paper on the desk, his face contorted and flushed in anger and fury," the complaint states. "'I know you sent this fucking email to management,'" Miliano allegedly told Brock. "'I'm going to kill you, I am going to hunt you down, and I'm going to kill your wife, and I'm going to kill your kids.' Shocked, frightened, and terrified, Brock made an effort to reduce the tension because he was afraid and apprehensive that Miliano was going to attack him. Brock responded calmly that he did not know who had sent the email. Miliano snatched the email from the desk and stormed out of the office. Brock learned shortly thereafter that Miliano had gone over to plaintiff [Kamal] Dayekh's office and threatened to kill Dayekh and his family as well," the complaint states.
Brock says he became terrified that Miliano would make good on his promises. He told James that he and Dayekh planned to file a police report; James responded by saying that that would be like "stabbing me in the back because I am up for partnership in this dealership" and changed Brock's schedule again, the complaint states.
Lao says he felt threatened by Miliano the day he reported the bonus discrepancies to James, when Miliano allegedly said "Jeff, let's go for a ride" according to the complaint.
"Defendant Miliano escorted Lao to his car, parked next to the general manager's parking space which is adjacent to a ravine and dense shrubs," Lao says in the complaint. "While standing next to the car, Miliano smirked and stated, 'If I cut you up into little pieces and throw you down the ravine, no one will ever find you.' Apprehensively, Lao got into the car and they went to a nearby Jamba Juice store.
"As Miliano drove Lao to Jamba Juice, he said: 'Jeff, you make a lot of money here, right? You would not want to jeopardize this, would you? I will pay you back the money, but do not tell anyone about this,'" according to the complaint.
"Defendant Miliano continued: 'I give people money in the store that I can't turn in vouchers for, like Jenn, so this is why I turned vouchers in on you.' Defendant Miliano then grabbed all of Mr. Lao's wage vouchers, held on to them and shredded them when they got back to the store, then told him to tell Dori Sosa in HR that 'everything was OK.' Lao was extremely distressed and fearful about the Catch-22 situation in which he was placed. He had one choice: to give up his rights to his wages or give up his job. It was illegal and a violation of federal and state laws for defendants to place Lao in this stressful predicament. Miliano's first explanation to Lao for the increased taxes and decreased net income reflected on his pay stub was Obamacare. Then he stated that taxes are always higher in January, February and March."
(Sosa is not a party to the complaint, nor is anyone named Jenn, or Jennifer.)
Lao says he remains unsure of how much extra taxes he's paid because of Miliano's alleged scheme. He describes the process of verifying his bonus vouchers as "like pulling teeth."
Miliano also allegedly threatened to kill Dayekh and his family for his part in exposing the fraud, and James told him that the importance of becoming partner in the dealership trumped handling Miliano, according to the lawsuit.
"James sent sales manager Efrain Moreno to Dayekh's office, requesting to talk," Dayekh says in the complaint. "Dayekh went to James' office with Moreno present. James informed Dayekh that he was going to fire him and asked him to quit voluntarily. Dayekh stated, 'Why do you want me to lie? You are firing me and you want me to sign a statement that you filled out saying I voluntarily quit.' Dayekh continued: 'Enough lies. I will not sign that statement because it is your lie.' Then James demanded that Dayekh sign a statement that he had been paid all the dealership owed him. James then stated, 'The reason why I am letting you go is because I had a complaint about you from a customer.' Dayekh asked, 'What customer?' James responded, 'The Korean guy.' Dayekh replied, 'The Korean customer from about two months ago, and you just remembered that now after two months? Show me the complaint.' James responded, 'I don't have it.' Dayekh said, 'I know why you are firing me, it's because I exposed the theft that you covered for Miliano.'"
(Moreno is not a party to the complaint.)
Dayekh claims that minutes after he was fired, Miliano called him, laughing.
"'How does it feel, you little fucker? Enjoy it, you just got fired, you motherfucker,'" according to the complaint. (89)
Plaintiff Amanda Bo Denton claims that her troubles with Miliano began when he told other salespeople at the dealership that he'd had sex with her, after she had turned him down for a date.
"Denton became aware of the rumor during the second week of October 2013, when she overheard a salesperson discussing it outside of the used car department," Denton says in the complaint. "She confronted Miliano, insisting that he immediately stop the false rumors. Following this incident, Miliano on numerous occasions belligerently screamed and yelled not only at Denton but numerous other employees, telling them 'Pack your shit and leave if you don't like it. My job is to torture you! Get the fuck out of my office.'"
Miliano also took to calling Denton "a fucking cunt" and "fucking bitch," and James did nothing about her woman's complaints, according to the lawsuit.
Plaintiff Christopher Montoya claims James did nothing to protect the employees from Miliano's attacks.
"Miliano singled out Montoya and [plaintiff Wilson] Woo in particular, calling Woo a cyborg, homo, faggot or little bitch," Montoya says in the complaint. "He taunted Montoya and Woo, calling them 'little pecker,' unzipping his pants, sticking his hand in and wiggling his finger through the open front, laughing that they had little penises. He made fun of Montoya because he had five children, belittling him constantly. When Montoya asked James about the shortages in his paycheck, James belligerently responded that it was not his fault that Montoya had so many kids and had to pay high taxes. Miliano called Montoya, who is Mexican-American, a spic, a beaner, faggot, little bitch and other offensive names. This happened virtually every day, and during the last six months of his employment he became so anxious and distraught that he hardly slept at night. He did not want to have sexual relations with his wife, did not play with his kids, but went home from work and went to bed, completely miserable. He dreaded every day and felt humiliated and diminished all the time."
All the plaintiffs report that Miliano regularly referred to people - customers and staff alike - using vile epithets including "fishheads," "cyborgs," "chinks," dog-eaters," "towelheads," "faggots," "homo" "wetbacks," "spics," "cunt," and "bitches."
Plaintiff Francisco Ubaldo, a Dominican-American of African descent, says Miliano upped the ante with him.
"Miliano called Ubaldo 'nigger' on many occasions, and also 'coon,' 'faggot' and 'homo,'" Ubaldo says in the complaint. "In addition, he constantly told Ubaldo that he was too old, that he'd never get another job anywhere, that he was an old geezer, that he could beat him up, and to 'Eat my dickhole.' In all of his years of working, Ubaldo has never been so humiliated and disrespected."
Ubaldo adds that James "condoned and supported every racist, discriminatory and retaliatory act Milano had committed, and it was James' directive that 'I'm here to torture you,'" according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs each seek $10 million in damages and punitive damages on 24 causes of action, including state and federal labor violations, wrongful termination and retaliation, fraud, assault, discrimination, embezzlement, workplace violence and threat of violence, conversion, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium.
They are represented by Charles Bonner with Bonner & Bonner in Sausalito, and Karan Gill in Walnut Creek.