Auto Dealers and Lawsuits and Law and Real Estate & Retail

Ex-manager accuses Butler Kia of keeping violent employee

October 2, 2010

Car salesmen are used to being under the gun to meet monthly quotas.

But a former sales manager at Butler Kia alleges a co-worker pulled an actual gun on employees—yet was kept on the job for several months afterward.

Amir Rashid Farokhi, in a lawsuit against Butler Automotive Group, alleges employer negligence that culminated in the employee’s “brutally” beating him six months later, at the 5500 N. Keystone Ave. dealership.

The case, filed Aug. 23 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, comes after a rash of workplace shootings in recent years that have called into question whether employers are doing enough to prevent violence.

Farokhi may have valuable evidence to make his case, in the form of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department reports that show officers responded to the dealership two times involving Farokhi’s claims.

In March of last year, Butler Kia employees told police that former Assistant Manager John Vito pulled a gun on them and shoved one employee into a wall. Then, last January, IMPD records show police were called again after a fight between Farokhi and Vito that was broken up after the finance manager jumped in between them.

Employees told police Vito struck Farokhi’s face several times with his fist.

Andrew Dutkanych, a partner of Biesecker Dutkanych & Macer who is representing Farokhi, said additional information would be available as the case progresses.

Vito could not be reached for comment. It’s unclear whether he still lives in the area. A records search turned up phone numbers for Vito in Indianapolis and Noblesville, but both phones were disconnected. An e-mail sent to an address believed to be his got no response.

Vito is not named as a defendant in Farokhi’s lawsuit.

There are no records to indicate he was ever questioned by police. Vito was not at Butler Kia when police arrived at either incident.

IMPD reports listed conflicting ages for Vito—either 44 or 54.

Farokhi, who according to police reports is age 32, is seeking more than $75,000 in damages from Butler Automotive Group, alleging negligent hiring and negligent employee retention of Vito.

He asks for damages for back pay and emotional and physical suffering. The total could amount to much more than $75,000, a threshold plaintiffs must hit when they file federal suits.

Police said Farokhi’s face was red, with abrasions and swelling, when they arrived at Butler Kia last Jan. 29 after he was allegedly punched by Vito.

Farokhi declined medical treatment, according to the report.

Rob Butler, a principal of Butler Automotive Group, said he could not comment specifically on the case. The dealership chain has yet to respond to specific allegations in court.

“There are two sides to every story,” said Butler, vowing a vigorous response.

Farokhi was hired by Butler in July 2008 as sales manager and was “a highly compensated employee,” according to his suit.

He alleges Vito attacked a minority employee at the dealership in July 2009.

Kia factboxHowever, police reports obtained by IBJ show an officer was called to Butler Kia on March 14 of last year. Employees said Vito accused them of stealing his “expensive” sunglasses. Neither confessed, the report said, saying Vito then pulled out a gun from his back pocket, slammed the magazine into the gun and threatened them.

“A John Vito, who was the assistant manager for sales for the used-cars section, had threatened him (employee) verbally stating that he would kick his ass and took out a handgun …” the officer wrote.

Before Vito left, he allegedly pushed one of the employees against the wall, according to police. It added that a manager called Vito on the phone and “let him go from the company.”

But Farokhi’s suit alleges that Butler Automotive instead transferred Vito to another of its dealerships, only to return him to the Kia store in September 2009.

“This misconduct and violent threats were reported to owners of (Butler Automotive). Still, defendant took no steps to protect its employees … Vito remained employed and the manager was told to get over it,” states the suit.

It claims that Vito had on at least one occasion gone out for drinks with unnamed owners of Butler Automotive. Farokhi alleges his former co-worker was allowed to maintain guns at the dealership, including semiautomatic weapons.

“Management would joke that Vito would probably kill Farokhi,” states the suit.

Matters came to a head Jan. 29. Farokhi said he challenged Vito about a deal Vito was setting up for a customer. One witness stated that he saw Vito punch Farokhi “several times with a closed fist,” said the police report.

Farokhi’s attorneys are going after Butler Automotive by alleging that it should have known it had an employee with a violent history, that it disregarded employee reports of threats, and that it failed to maintain a safe workplace.

Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, an Indiana University law professor, rattles off a handful of cases in Indiana where plaintiffs have pursued employers for negligent hiring and retention.

Some of these cases have been brought by outside parties, as well, including trustees of an estate that alleged a bank hired an inept employee that resulted in property being sold off for less than fair market value.

Establishing employer liability comes down to the question of whether it exercised “reasonable care” to control an employee from creating harm to others.

The Indiana Court of Appeals has commented employers may subject themselves to liability by retaining workers who “are in a habit of misconducting themselves in a manner dangerous to others.”

Dau-Schmidt said he’d be curious as to why a threatening employee remained on the job so long after an incident, if indeed the allegations are in fact true.

If so, a defendant might start talking settlement, for a substantial amount of money, he said. “It looks like a good case to me.”•

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