SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. – A discrimination case has hit the Pinellas County Courthouse that reads like a 1980s illicit office sex proposition. The setting is St. Petersburg’s Bert Smith Oldsmobile doing business as Bert Smith Subaru, located at 3800 34th Street North. According to online business information, the Bert Smith Subaru group employs approximately 100 people with annual revenues of about $21 Million. According to the Plaintiff’s attorney, the case raises issues about the decades-old arbitration clause found in employee contracts, which could force this case into secrecy.
On October 23, 2020, Allison M. Stevens filed as Plaintiff in a lawsuit against the automotive dealership after commencing employment in March as Internet Director. In August, Brian Richardson was hired as General Sales Manager, becoming Stevens’ boss. It is alleged he propositioned Stevens numerous times in a brash and intense manner.
Allegedly, he told Stevens from the beginning that he needed people he could trust, winked at her, and asked, “Are you one of those people?” He then made it known to Stevens and other women employees that his wife was “out-of-state” and oh, by the way, they’re “just friends.” One day, he allegedly looked at Stevens and asked, “Your breasts look nice – are they real?” Later, he told her he liked to sleep with younger women and took turns leaving his credit card on top of women’s desks, as there were other female employees he purportedly taunted. It was assumed that he was offering to pay for sex.
When Richardson was rebuffed by Stevens on FaceTime when he tried to communicate with her on her days off, he became angry. When Stevens allegedly told Richardson his behavior was inappropriate, he cried, “Everyone accuses me of f—ing everyone everywhere I work.”
He later asked her to go to the Bar Fly with him, which she apparently did not, and stated he proceeded to invade her personal space, requiring her to move away. “I’m good at what I do. I know how to please women,” he said at one point.
According to the lawsuit, he claimed he didn’t want HR in his life, then called Stevens into his office because “he just wanted to see her walk out.” By July, Richardson would sit at his desk, communicating with Stevens and stare at her breasts as she uncomfortably tried to handle the situation. “You can touch yourself in front of me whenever you want,” he said. She then reported him to the Human Resource department on August 6th, complaining of sexual harassment.
Stevens also claims she reported sexual harassment to Mike Mitchell, General Manager, whom she states replied to her, “If I have to choose between you and Richardson, you’d be out.”
Stevens also told Human Resources that a woman she hired was also the subject of sexual harassment.
When an investigation was opened, an employee named Connor said he was told not to say anything about what he had seen occur between Richardson and Stevens. In the meantime, Richardson told Stevens’ fellow employees that they were either “for” him or “against” him.
Richardson was soon fired, but Mitchell allegedly became hostile and abusive toward Stevens, screaming at her, “Do you understand me?” and complaining he would have to bring in witnesses every time he would need to communicate with her.
On September 30th, Stevens was fired.
One count against Bert Smith was filed in the lawsuit for violating the Florida Whistleblower Act.
Stevens’ attorney, Ronald W. Fraley of Tampa, was asked why only one count was filed against the company in a case he stated had adequate witnesses. “The case has to go through the administrative process first. We have filed the EEOC charge. This filing is an additional ‘cause of action,’ then we can bring in (a count) of sexual harassment.”
Fraley also mentioned that Bert Smith may attempt to compel the case to arbitration, but said a new trend is occurring in various states where they are considering abolishing the arbitration process. Yet to verify the employment documents Stevens signed at Bert Smith, and stating the Defendant is not responsive to his calls, he explained that arbitration would be a secret case process shielded from public knowledge with a corporate attorney making the case’s decision.