A New York man is suing a New Jersey auto dealer for $1.26 million, claiming he was not sold a Mercedes Benz because the sales manager allegedly feared he would export it to the Taliban.
The incident allegedly happened on June 3 when Surjeet Bassi, who is Indian, went to Prestige Motors Inc. to purchase a new car, a lawsuit filed July 5 in U.S. District Court in New York’s Southern District alleges.
Accompanied by a colleague, 50-year-old Bassi spent between four and five hours choosing the vehicle, a 2017 Mercedes Benz GLS550, turning over bank records to establish his credit worthiness, and waiting for the car to be delivered, the lawsuit said.
As requested, Bassi made a $1,000 down payment by credit card and had his insurance company fax a copy of proof of insurance for the new vehicle, the suit alleges.
But after reaching an agreement on the price of the SUV and the trade-in value of Bassi’s current car, the salesman told Bassi the manager wanted to speak with him, the lawsuit said.
The manager allegedly said he could not sell Bassi an automobile because he “came from a ‘high risk area’ where people buy such cars and export them to the Taliban,” according to the lawsuit.
Bassi explained he was Indian, the suit said, and that he was not related to the Taliban.
Bassi also suggested the manager search for his name, address, and phone number in a federal database of “‘known exporters of Mercedes Benz’ vehicles,” which came up negative, according to Bassi’s lawsuit.
Nonetheless, the manager refused to finalize the sale and extend the $83,000 in credit for which Bassi qualified, the suit alleges.
“Defendant’s action was an instance of racial stereotyping, premised on plaintiff’s race and appearance and reflected discrimination in that the same behavior would never have been engaged in had plaintiff been a white citizen of the United States,” the lawsuit reads.
Prestige Motors spokeswoman Theresa V. Boylan told NBC News in an email statement that Prestige Mercedes Benz denies Bassi’s allegations of discrimination. She added that the company does not condone discrimination and highly values all of its customers.
“In this case, as with every transaction, [Prestige Motors] followed internal procedures which sometimes require it to decline vehicle sales,” she said. “Any decision to decline a sale is not reached lightly. These procedures are in no way based on race, national origin, or any other discriminatory considerations.”
Bassi’s lawsuit alleges that Prestige Motors “violated the most basic principles of fair dealing, equity and non-discrimination, which have long been established in our nation’s laws governing the entering into commercial transactions and the extension of fair credit.”
It also accuses the auto dealer of racial discrimination — for extending credit to white citizens but not Bassi — and of violating the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
Bassi is seeking $60,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.