Auto parts distribution firm sued over alleged Covid violations, racist comments

Ex-employee charges retaliation by company

Carparts Distribution Center Inc. allegedly fired a longtime employee the day he threatened to report the company to the Nashua Department Public Health for violating the city’s Covid-19 mask ordinance.

The suit, filed June 6 by David Johnson in U.S. District Court in Concord, also charges the Plaistow-based operator of several motor vehicle parts outlets throughout New Hampshire, retaliated against Johnson for calling out other employees’ racist comments.

Johnson started working for Carparts in 2012 as a delivery driver at the Nashua location and was quickly promoted to counter employee and then manager of the Epsom location.

But after the pandemic broke out in March 2020, things began to go sour, according to the complaint.

  • When Johnson asked his regional manager about Covid guidelines, according to the suit, he was told to make his own policy. He did so by implementing a no-contact delivery policy and closing the retail area. But after customers complained, Johnson was asked to go out on furlough in April 2020. When he returned to work, he was sent back to Nashua as a salaried employee.
  • In the next several months, Johnson complained about racist comments – including the use of the N-word – and racist jokes at the workplace, according to the complaint. For instance, it says, on Dec. 2, when the company’s white water cooler was replaced by a black one, a manager allegedly stated, “The new one is black: it probably isn’t going to work.”
  • Shortly before Christmas 2020, after the store was exposed to Covid by an outside salesman, Johnson said employees should be wearing masks. The same manager allegedly told Johnson that he could not wear a mask. On New Year’s Eve day, Johnson repeated his request for a mask policy after another exposure. The manager allegedly became angry and told Johnson he could go home.
  • A week later, according to the suit, Johnson was asked to go to work in the Salem store after the Derry store was closed because of a Covid outbreak. Johnson objected to going to Salem – presumably to work besides those who had been exposed in Derry – because of the lack of Covid safety policies. When another employee was sent in Johnson’s place, he returned to Nashua without being tested. On Jan. 14, 2021, Johnson brought up mask policy again and threatened to report the store to the city’s Department of health. The manager allegedly got angry, told Johnson to go home, and when he refused, left the store. Later that day, Johnson was fired for insubordination, not giving the manager full support, lack of teamwork and not meeting his 45-hour-a-week salary requirements

The suit argues that these complaints were vague and that Johnson was working 43 to 47 hours a week. Instead, it charges that Carparts was retaliating against Johnson for “reporting discrimination in the workplace, for reporting violations of the City Mask Ordinance, and for proposing and advocating for COVID-19 safety measures.”

The suit was filed by the Maine Employee Rights Group, a law firm located in Portland, Maine.

Categories: Law, News