OLIVE BRANCH, MS (abc24.com) - Racist advertisements and suddenly fired for the color of his skin, those are just a few of the claims one Mid-South man is making against a major car dealership and its owner.
Carlton Watson is suing All-Star Chevrolet in Olive Branch and the company's owner, Larry Depriest, for $2 million. The Federal lawsuit makes specific claims of blatant and intentional racism.
Watson was the only African American salesman for All-Star Chevrolet, when he was hired in 2006. Five years later, according to his lawyer, Martin Zummach, Watson was abruptly fired. Zummach says, "Larry Depriest said, 'You've got 15 minutes to clean your desk out' and he used a curse word."
Zummach says the confrontation came just days after a work place Christmas party where Larry Depriest's wife asked Watson to dance. "As they moved away from the table to dance," Zummach says, "Mr. Larry Depriest stood up and grabbed his wife's arm." According to the complaint filed in Mississippi's Federal court Depriest said in the crowd, "My wife ain't gonna dance with no N--." Zummach says it was the same reason for Watson's termination. "Carlton's a very soft spoken person, he said, 'Why?'" Zummach says, "Depriest repeated it and said, 'My wife don't dance with no," and he used the 'N' word."
Before he was fired, Zummach says, Watson was demoted by the dealership even though he was one of their most successful sales associates. There's also the advertisement in used car circulars that instead of using Watson's photo they placed a picture of Sanford and Son. Zummach says it was a clearly racist maneuver. "This is not going to be easily defended because this is not the first time he's done this." Zummach says, "We believe All-Star Chevy knows exactly how Depriest is and they've all but encouraged it."
Zummach says All-Star sent him a statement saying: "All-Star denies any and all claims made by Watson and views the allegations spurious."
Depriest's lawyer did not return a call from abc24.com
Watson is requesting a jury trial in Federal Court.