AutoZone worker: Customer unleashed racist tirade — and I got fired

After being fired from an AutoZone in South Georgia, a woman is suing its parent company — AutoZoners, LLC — for unlawful discrimination based on her race.

The suit was filed by the woman’s attorney, Ian E. Smith, on Tuesday in the United States District Court in Atlanta. The woman claims that her rights under the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 were violated.

According to the suit, the woman — who is African American — says she was fired after an incident where a white male customer shouted racist language and curse words at her. The woman, employed as a driver and sales associate for the company for a little less than a year, claims that the district manager told her to ignore the racist language and to “suck it up.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not identifying the woman because she claims she was a victim of racism. 

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Later that day, according to the suit, the woman met with AutoZone human resources, who advised her to “just let it work itself out” and refused to investigate her complaint about the district manager’s behavior. The woman then approached a different manager about what steps were necessary to resign. She says she did not formally resign and was simply inquiring about the process.

The next day, on March 15, 2017, the district manager fired the woman. According to the suit, the woman says that the district manager claims that he was accepting her two-week resignation immediately.

When reached by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ray Pohlman, a spokesman for AutoZone, said “we do not comment publicly on pending litigation.”

Smith, the woman’s lawyer, said “we prefer to not make a statement now.”

The suit was filed in Atlanta because AutoZone’s registered agent is located in the metro area, but AutoZone may seek to move the case to the Middle District of Georgia, in Valdosta, Smith said.

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According to the suit, the incident leading to the woman’s firing occurred on March 14, 2017 when a “regular commercial account customer” called the AutoZone claiming that someone from the store had just called his phone. The woman answered and told the customer she “was unable to determine” who called him. She says the customer then began to curse at her and she hung up the phone.

The customer then drove to the AutoZone at 1016 E. Jackson St. in Thomasville and confronted the woman. According to the suit, the white male customer called the woman “a worthless piece of (expletive)” and said, “I don’t (know) why y’all have a bunch of (racial epithet) in here that don’t know nothing, and now you have a lady (racial epithet) in here and she really knows nothing.”

According to the suit, the man also called her “a black (expletive)” and said “Trump is backing my money” and “you mother (expletives) are about to get what you deserve.”

An African American female manager stepped between the man and the woman in an attempt to smooth things over, according to the suit. The man then asked for the number to corporate, and the district manager and commercial manager arrived at the store shortly after.

According to the suit, the district manager told the woman she was being rude to the customer and that when a commercial account came in she is “to do what they ask and not say anything else.” The woman told the district manager what the customer had called her and he told her, she claims, that “those were just words” and to “suck it up.”

In the suit, the woman claims that she was deprived of economic opportunities because of her race, and that the entire incident affected her psychological and physical well-being. She is seeking a jury trial.

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