Texas Company Sued for Allegedly Discriminating Against Mormon Salesman

Texas Company Sued for Allegedly Discriminating Against Mormon Salesman

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DALLAS (AP) -- Federal officials sued Bombardier Aerospace Corp., accusing the company of illegally firing a jet salesman who complained about an executive's remark that he couldn't entertain customers because he is a Mormon who doesn't smoke or drink.

A government lawyer on Monday called the case "one of the most ridiculous workplace outrages one could imagine."

The salesman, Michael Kolman, was fired less than a week after he complained to personnel officials, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

A spokesman for Bombardier Aerospace, a Dallas subsidiary of Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., said the company had not seen the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas. He declined to comment on the specifics of Kolman's case but defended the company's record.

"From Bombardier's point of view, we don't discriminate against employees, and any behavior like that is absolutely not tolerated," said the spokesman, Steve Phillips.

Kolman, 38, was a salesman for Cessna Aircraft Co. when Bombardier hired him in May 2001 as a regional sales director based in Atlanta. Kolman got a good performance review in June 2002 but things changed after he mentioned to his boss that he was Mormon, said William C. Backhaus, a lawyer for the EEOC.

Backhaus said that Bill Monroe, Bombardier Aerospace's vice president of sales, told Kolman that wining and dining customers was part of a jet salesman's job. Kolman complained to two company personnel officials about Monroe's comments and was fired a week later, Backhaus said.

Bombardier did not immediately make Monroe available for comment.

The company told the EEOC it fired Kolman for poor performance -- after selling three jets in 2001, he only assisted on sales of two used jets in 2002. Kolman said officials had assured him he would have three years to prove his worth. Nine of Bombardier's 17 regional sales directors had no sales by then, Backhaus said.

Kolman moved to Colorado and has since found work with another aircraft company but at less than half his previous salary of at least $230,000 a year, Backhaus said.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC accused Bombardier of violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits job discrimination based on religion. The lawsuit seeks about $800,000 in damages, including back pay, unpaid commissions and punitive damages, Backhaus said.

Kolman was not available for comment. In a statement issued by the EEOC, he said Bombardier lured him away from Cessna, "then they threw me in the street. Myself aside, this has been really hard on my family."

Bombardier Inc. is one of the world's largest makers of civil aircraft behind Boeing and Airbus. The Dallas subsidiary sells jets for fractional ownership, in which individuals or businesses buy for a portion of the jet's time.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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