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Arbitration Revs Up Against St. Louis Auto Dealership

Plaza Motors in age discrimination arbitration with former employees.

Arbitration Revs Up Against St. Louis Auto Dealership

Former Plaza Motors general sales manager for Lexus Jack Hisserich and former Plaza Lexus business manager Larry Pohlman are in arbitration with the leading luxury car dealer in the area concerning alleged age discrimination. 

Hisserich is now the general sales manager for Parktown Imports in Kirkwood. He filed an age discrimination suit in May of 2010 and Pohlman filed in October of 2010. 

Plaza, Hisserich, and Pohlman have agreed to leave the remedy in the hands of an arbitrator.

Hisserich, 60, began working for the Creve Coeur dealership in 1990 and managed all Lexus sales and 15 employees during his five-years as general manager of Lexus at Plaza. 

He was fired in 2009 after Plaza general manager John Stamm promoted Victor Austin to general manager of Lexus.

Hisserich has laid out numerous examples of alleged age discrimination involving current and former Plaza employees in court documents. The records include many alleged fiery exchanges.

Pohlman, 61, was Plaza Motors Lexus business manager when former finance director Jim Shanks, 35, and Austin, 45, allegedly met with Hisserich to inform him that Pohlman was going to be moved to to Cadillac sales and replaced.

According to court documents Shanks is alleged to have said, “I wish the crabby old f___ (Pohlman) would just retire or quit and make it easy on everybody.”

Shanks now works at West County Nissan in Ellisville.

Pohlman was replaced at Lexus by 44-year-old Jeff Walsh and transferred to the Cadillac division of Plaza. He returned to Lexus four months later as business manager. 

Pohlman’s reprise lasted just under three months. He was fired in June of 2009 and replaced by a 32-year-old.

Jerry Hitt, 60, was general sales manager for Plaza Motors BMW and a 16-year employee when he was fired in 2008 and replaced with the younger Dennis Schaffner.

Hitt filed an employment discrimination suit against Plaza in March 2009, which was settled in December 2009. A non-disclosure agreement precludes him from commenting.

Former Plaza Lexus salesman Chandler Lowell, 65, was fired in June 2009 and replaced with a younger individual.

According to the court documents, current Lexus sales manager George Mathews, 43, is alleged to have asked Lowell, What? Are you like 63 or 64? You don’t need insurance anymore. Why are you still working?”

Austin was promoted to general manager of Lexus on June 1, 2009. Hisserich alleges Austin got the promotion while lacking both Lexus sales and management experience and that Austin on several occasions prior to Hisserich’s June 15, 2009 firing asked him, “How many more years are you going to work?”

When Hisserich questioned Stamm about why he was passed up for promotion for a less qualified candidate he alleges Stamm referred to Hisserich’s refusal to write up older Lexus employees, including former Lexus business manager Glen Boland and 56-year-old Dennis Brehaney, per his orders.

Boland had been demoted to Lexus business manager from Plaza Motors general manager and was fired in April 2009.

Asbury Automotive of Georgia bought Plaza Motors in 2002 and has operated the dealership since. The company is one of the largest auto retailers in the United States and reported revenues of nearly $4 billion in 2010.

Hisserich and Pohlman are being represented by Donna Harper of Sedey Harper while Plaza is being represented by Brian E. McGovern of McCarthy, Leonard, Kaemmerer. Both sides declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

A former Brown Shoe Co. executive moves from shoes to suits

According to court documents Mark Lardie, when questioned by Brown Shoe Co. CEO Diane Sullivan in June about his interest in leaving the company for a German rival, allegedly led her to believe he was not interested and intended to remain with Brown Shoe in Clayton.

Sullivan alleges she heard on June 10 that Lardie was exploring employment with Deichmann Group.

On July 14, Lardie, Brown’s divisional president for wholesale operations, confirmed Sullivan’s fears and told her he expected July 20 to be his last day at Brown. He said he would leave his $825,000 per year salary with the company to join the Deichmann Group as president and CEO of its United States operations.

Brown Shoe Co. is seeking an injunction from St. Louis County judge Robert Cohen to prevent Lardie from joining the company, which operates Rack Room Shoes.

Rack Room Shoes is considered a competitor of Brown, according to the non-compete contract Lardie signed and of which a copy of is also offered as evidence in the petition seeking the injunction.

According to the court documents Lardie accepted a $50,000 bonus for signing the non-compete contract.

Doug Koch, Brown Shoe senior vice president and chief talent officer commented, “Like many other companies, Brown Shoe has agreements with its top level executives. These include provisions, such as non-compete covenants that specify a limited time frame when the former executive may not compete with the company. We take these agreements seriously, as they help protect our business and our shareholders’ interests. We are disappointed that we were forced to file suit due to Mr. Lardie's decision.”

Sullivan added, “While we’re disappointed with Mark Lardie’s decision to leave Brown Shoe, we’re confident in the leadership and teams we have in place across the company. We look forward to their continued contributions to our corporate strategy, which remains focused on the key family, healthy living and contemporary fashion platforms.”

Mark Deiermann of Bryan Cave is representing Brown Shoe Co.

Former Richmond Heights firefighter files suit against city

On January 14, 2011 former Richmond Heights firefighter Jan Carman filed a personal injury suit in St. Louis County--one day before the Missouri statute of limitations five-year limit expired.

She is seeking a judgement in excess of $25,000 against Richmond Heights, the Richmond Heights Fire Department, and Patrick Wieland. Wieland is the Richmond Heights firefighter RN that Carman alleges backed a fire truck over her on January 15, 2006.

In court documents Carman says she exited a fire truck operated by Wieland when he backed over Carman causing serious, substantial, and permanent injuries to her back and left knee.

She also alleges that Wieland did not rely on his equipment or other firefighters to direct the truck into the department bay as mandated by procedure set by Richmond Heights.

James Fox of Fox and Vuylstekeis is representing Carman while Peter Dunne of Pitzer Snodgrass is representing the defendants.

Fox did not return a call and Dunne declined to comment citing pending litigation.

Kirkwood Sanitation Department facing litigation

Lance Cutts and Lucas Cox filed law suits against the Kirkwood Sanitation Department in May, one an employment discrimination suit and the other a personal injury suit.

Cutts, a 24-year veteran of the department, filed an employment discrimination suit on May 2 in St. Louis County Court that was moved to federal court in June.

Cutts became angered by perceived aggressive driving tactics by Kirkwood residents on his route as a sanitation department truck driver. He says he felt for his safety. Cutts also said several Kirkwood residents had complained that he had been blocking them from exiting or entering their driveways.

He says he wrote Priscilla Utley, Human Resources Manager for Kirkwood in 2007 and 2009 explaining his concerns.

Cutts says he explained in one letter, that he saw Kirkwood residents putting him in peril and has a videotape of the alleged incidents.

On November 19, 2009 Cutts says Kirkwood Sanitation Department executive director Gary Forshee called Cutts in off of his route and drove him to a meeting at Kirkwood City Hall with Utley.

Cutts says he was told by Utley that his action was inappropriate and that he would need to complete counseling before he would be allowed to return to work. Cutts also alleges Kirkwood offered him no course of appeal and that he wanted his videotape to be viewed by Utley. Cutts said police were called to City Hall during the discussion at which point he announced, “In Jesus name I resign.”

Cutts says police gave him a ride back to the sanitation department where he alleges department management members derided him for taking too long to clean out his locker.

On November 24, 2009 Cutts made a visit to the Kirkwood Police Department to convince them of his side of things, when the conversation became adversarial and he felt that police were holding him against his will.

Cutts said he excused himself to use the restroom and when he came back police handcuffed him to an ambulance bed and he was taken to the psychiatric ward where he remained for ten days of observation.

Cutts says that he completed the required counseling while at St. John's and was reinstated as a member of the sanitation department on January 7, 2010. He also alleges that he has lost all of his seniority and has been assigned the most labor intensive of jobs since his return.

Utley, Forshee, and Kirkwood Public Works director Todd Rehg are also defendants in the suit.

Utley is out of the office until Monday and a call to her assistant went unreturned. Forshee declined comment citing pending litigation while Cutts says he has been unable to find an attorney willing to represent him.

The next scheduled court date is August 10 in United States District Court at the Thomas F. Eagleton Court House in St. Louis.

In the second suit against Kirkwood, Cox alleges on November 9, 2006 he was riding in the rear of a sanitation department truck operated by employee Billy Fair Jr. transporting and picking up trash.

According to court documents, Fair is alleged to have attempted to make a right turn from Lindbergh onto Essex when he caused the vehicle to leave the roadway and strike a telephone pole.

Cox was pinned and pinched between the vehicle and telephone pole and then fell to the ground. He suffered multiple pelvic and hip fractures, injury to his back, neck, knee, right thigh, left thigh, and has persistent left groin pain and bladder injury.

Cox alleges the City of Kirkwood hired Fair to work as a driver despite knowing that his driving record included numerous license suspensions, revocations, moving violations, and other traffic infringements. He is seeking a judgement in excess of $25,000.

In Missouri the statute of limitations to file a personal injury law suit is five years.

Rob Merlin of Ray B. Marglous, P.C. is representing Cox while Portia Kayser of Baker, Sterchi, Cowden, and Rice is representing Kirkwood and Fair. Both declined comment citing pending litigation.

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