Luxury automobile dealership Dreyer & Reinbold Inc. is facing a federal trial after being sued for discrimination by a former employee who says she was fired because she suffered a stroke.
A jury trial has been set for June 19 in the case, which pits Karla Edson against the Indianapolis-based seller of new and used vehicles. The lawsuit alleges the car dealership discriminated against Edson because of her stroke-related disabilities and violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is intended to protect job security for employees who must take time off for health-related reasons.
Indianapolis-based D&R, founded in 1966, operates two local superstores, one on the north side of Indianapolis and another in Greenwood that sell vehicles under the BMW, Infiniti, Subaru. Volkswagen, Maserati and Mini brands.
D&R President Dennis Reinbold also owns Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which has competed in the IndyCar circuit since 2000.
Edson, who worked as appointment coordinator for the service department at D&R’s Greenwood location for more than nine years, was fired in May 2015, less than a month after she had the stroke.
In her suit, Edson said D&R Service Manager James Kizer and General Manager Brian Gauker reacted negatively to her need for intermittent leave requested under the FMLA. Edson said the managers were reluctant to structure her schedule so she could attend speech-therapy sessions one day a week.
Kizer also expressed concern when Edson told him she would need to use a wheeled walker, or “scooter,” at work because she was having difficulty walking. He was “worried that the scooter would not fit the company's image,” she said in court papers.
Edson said she was called into Kizer’s office the first day she brought the walker to work and was told she was being terminated because her position was being eliminated in a restructuring.
In her suit, Edson said she asked Kizer why the company couldn’t find another position for her “after nine years of faithful service.” She said Kizer gestured at her walker when he told her there was now no place for her to work.
Edson is represented by attorneys Daniel Kent and Mary Jane Lapointe of Indianapolis-based Lapointe Law Firm.
“Mrs. Edson was an excellent employee who suffered a catastrophic medical problem but came right back to work,” Kent said in written comments. “We allege, and we intend to prove at trial, that Mrs. Edson was fired because she no longer fit the company image when she became disabled and needed to use a walker. We believe that what the company did is reprehensible—they kicked her when she was down.”
Among other relief, Edson is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages and benefits, financial costs related to her loss of health care insurance and legal fees.
Kent declined to estimate the total amount of damages involved in the case, but said they would likely reach six figures.
After Edson filed her original complaint in August 2015, D&R filed a motion for summary judgment to have the lawsuit dismissed.
In court papers, D&R managers said they had already planned to eliminate Edson’s position prior to her stroke as part of a service department restructuring, but they had not gotten around to informing her of the decision. Her job was the only position eliminated in the restructuring.
The managers said they had been planning to move Edson into another job but later decided against it because two employees told them they heard Edson say she would quit if the dealership tried to move her to a new position.
Magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore denied the summary-judgment motion in December, and the business filed an objection asserting that the judge had erred in his ruling because he omitted important facts from his report.
District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt overruled the objection and set a May 24 pretrial conference and a June 19 jury trial.
Attorney Jeffrey Halbert of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, who represents D&R in the case, said he wouldn’t discuss pending litigation.