January 2017, Auto Dealer Today - Feature
Every time you begin to think you’ve heard every strange story about car dealers that has ever been told, along comes another one. This one comes from my home state, Georgia, as reported by Amy Leigh Womack of the Macon Telegraph.
According to the Telegraph story (based on a lawsuit complaint), Amy Graham, a Dublin, Ga., woman, unhappy with her experience at a Byron, Ga., car dealership, complained about the experience on social media. Graham alleged that she then found herself on the phone with an employee who threatened to distribute nude photos of her if she didn’t remove the comment.
Graham’s complaint, filed in Bibb County Superior Court against Jeff Smith Chevrolet, claims the dealership is liable for intentionally inflicting emotional distress and publicly disclosing “embarrassing private facts.” The suit also named Jeff Smith Management Inc. as a defendant.
The reporter was unsuccessful in trying to reach the dealership’s attorney and general manager, so the story relied on Graham’s allegations in her lawsuit. Here’s what happened, according to Graham’s lawsuit:
Graham and her husband traded in two used cars for two new cars. The dealership agreed in writing to add leather seats to one of the new vehicles. Shortly afterward, Graham’s husband asked about the leather seats and was told the dealership wouldn’t be installing them because it wasn’t getting a good deal on the trade-in.
At this point, Graham posted her negative comment. Evidently the dealership discovered her post, because she claimed that an employee told her by phone that the seats wouldn’t be installed until her comment was deleted. Then, after being told the call was being recorded, the employee said the dealership had nude photos of Graham.
The employee said the dealership would share the photos with Graham’s husband if she didn’t delete the negative comment. He went on to say he knew she was a teacher, a statement she took as a threat that the photos would be revealed to her school.
Graham is represented by The Jackson Law Firm. Reached for comment by the Telegraph reporter, attorney Brad Childers said, “The pleadings speak for themselves. … We hope to get the matter resolved through litigation.” He declined further comment, citing the pending litigation.
It’s at about here that I need to remind you that the description of the dealership employee’s actions in the case are, at this point, only allegations by a plaintiff in a lawsuit. Nobody has proven anything yet. If Graham can prove her case to a jury, then our collective jaws can drop.
Now I’m just guessing, but I think it’s unlikely that you could find in the dealership’s complaint management policy an entry that says, “When a buyer complains, threaten to publicly air nude photos.” So that tells me it is quite possible the dealership’s management knew nothing about the behavior of the employee doing the alleged threatening.
You do have to wonder, however, what sort of basic training that employee had been exposed to. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Are employees instructed that there is such a crime as extortion, and that threats of public humiliation as a means of forcing a customer to withdraw criticism of the dealer might just be a teeny, weeny problem?
Ethics training for car dealership employees? Sounds like a possible growth industry to me.
Thomas B. Hudson is a partner in the firm of Hudson Cook LLP, publisher of Spot Deliver and the author of several widely read compliance manuals. Contact him at [email protected].