Toyota dealership inspired by #MeToo likely discriminated against men, state says

This Feb. 3, 2010 file photo shows a palm tree behind a Toyota sign at Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach, Florida.
This Feb. 3, 2010 file photo shows a palm tree behind a Toyota sign at Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach, Florida. AP

A South Florida Toyota dealership looking to bring balance to a male-dominated sales team likely discriminated against men when it advertised exclusively for female sales associates last year, a state commission has determined.

Now a man from New York whose application was rejected by Earl Stewart Toyota in Palm Beach County is battling the car dealership in court and seeking “back pay and front pay from the date the position was filled by a less-qualified individual,” along with damages and attorney fees.

In a 2017 job listing on the website Indeed, Earl Stewart Toyota stated it was “taking the radical approach of actively soliciting women salespeople.”

At the time, the sales team consisted of 22 men and 5 women, a company publicist told the Miami Herald.

The owner of the car dealership, Earl Stewart, had been inspired by the #MeToo movement against sexual violence and harassment, which in October 2017 led to allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

“He, as a father, as a grandfather as a husband, wanted to make sure he was doing his part to level the playing field,” company spokeswoman Melissa Barton told the Herald. “He is so dedicated, very passionate about what happened.”

On Oct. 6 — a day before the New York Times published the first news report on the Weinstein allegations — a man from the Bronx named Glenn Liou applied to an Earl Stewart Toyota job listing titled “Earl Stewart Toyota Wants to Hire Women Sales Associates!”

Three days later, Liou received a rejection email from Stu Stewart that read, “At this time we won’t be moving forward with your application.”

The car dealership argues that Liou, who lives out of state, was not qualified for the position. He scored poorly on their survey, the dealership says, did not have previous dealership experience and held his past three jobs for less than one year.

“A male applied and the male just didn’t have the proper skill set,” Barton said. “When the male did not get the job, he immediately hired a lawyer.”

Barton said Liou’s work experience consisted of eight months at the U.S. Postal Service, six months in customer service at a data analytics company and two months at a human rights nonprofit.

Liou felt discriminated against, and that Earl Stewart had violated the Florida Civil RIghts Act of 1992, so he filed a petition of relief from an “unlawful employment practice” with the Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings. He argued that “the only reason he was not considered for the position was his gender.”

The Florida Commission on Human Relations, which investigates matters of workplace discrimination, ruled partially in Liou’s favor on June 18, determining that the dealership’s stated gender preference was “direct evidence of gender discrimination” under Florida law, but that an investigation into the incident showed the dealership did, in fact, fully consider Liou’s application regardless of his gender before rejecting him.

The commission ultimately stated in its ruling that “reasonable cause exists to believe that an unlawful practice occurred” in the dealership’s explicitly soliciting female applicants.

Earl Stewart Toyota “provided the posting and acknowledged that ... it stated a gender preference because [the dealership] wanted to get more female employees,” the commission’s Executive Director Michelle Wilson wrote in her determination of reasonable cause. “This is direct evidence of gender discrimination under section 760.10(6), Florida Statutes.”

On July 12, the commission requested that an administrative judge take over the case and later submit his findings back to the commission. Earl Stewart will discuss the case at a Monday morning news conference.

Barton, the dealership publicist, said since Liou’s rejection, the company has hired nine salespeople. All are male.

“I find it very sad that in the 21st-century we still find opportunities for women’s employment far less than those for men,” Earl Stewart said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “I’m a businessman trying to hire more women to right this wrong. My efforts are being deterred by obsolete civil rights laws, allowing me to be sued by a man claiming that I discriminated by hiring a woman instead of him.”

Public records show that Liou has previously filed a petition of relief against a Florida company looking to hire women through Indeed, but it was unsuccessful.

In 2016, when his listed residence was in Phoenix, he targeted a Sanford company called Total Marketing Concepts, which he said had discriminated against him by posting a telemarketing job listing exclusive to women. The job, Liou said, entailed calling subscribers to the Christian dating site Christian Mingle and the Jewish dating site JDate and enticing them to renew their subscriptions.

In that case, Liou, who identified himself as a 55-year-old Taiwanese man, applied and never heard back. The company said it does not employ sales agents in Arizona. He demanded $28,800 in back pay, but after the commission ruled against him, he withdrew his case.

Requests for comment made to Liou’s attorney were not immediately returned.

Women and men alike have taken to social media recently to post "#MeToo" to raise awareness for the number of victims of sexual harassment and assault. People were encouraged to tweet the hashtag if they had been victims of these themselves.