Scottsdale Lexus Dealer Boasted of 'Out of Step' Values in Rescinding Job Offer, EEOC Alleges

A north Scottsdale car dealership official bragged about its "out-of-step" cultural values after rescinding a job offer because the applicant was using a legally prescribed drug, according to a federal complaint filed last week.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges that Bell Lexus of north Scottsdale had offered a job to Fountain Hills resident Sara Thorholm but reneged after she tested positive for a drug she'd been prescribed for attention-deficit disorder. The drug is not specified in the complaint.

The EEOC investigated the 2013 case before filing a complaint on Thorholm's behalf against Bell Leasing, the auto dealership's parent company.

Alleging numerous violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Thorholm seeks back pay, compensation for losses, and damages for pain and suffering.

The lawsuit states that Bell Leasing's human-resources policy was applied with "malice or with reckless indifference" to Thorholm's federally protected rights.

Anyone who intends to sue for employment discrimination must first file a charge with the EEOC. But the federal agency only rarely sues on a complainant's behalf. Some complaints are dismissed; others end with the EEOC issuing a so-called Notice of Right to Sue. "EEOC files employment discrimination lawsuits in select cases," the agency states on its website. "Because of limited resources, EEOC cannot file a lawsuit in every case where discrimination has been found." 

According to the suit against Bell Leasing, the company initiated a policy in June 2012 that refused employment to anyone who tested positive for a specified list of substances, regardless of whether a doctor had prescribed them to treat an illness.

Thorholm applied at the dealership on 18555 North Scottsdale Road on August 21, 2013, and was offered a job as product specialist or salesperson. She took a drug test the same day. The next day, the company withdrew the offer, notifying Thorholm of the drug-test result.

Thorholm explained to representatives of Bell Lexus that she could provide her prescription and other documentation showing her need for the drug, according to the complaint. She also offered to have her doctor change her medication.

But the company's human-resources director, Jim Krbec, refused to consider any of Thorholm's explanations, the complaint alleges.

"We choose to maintain a working climate that is a little out of step with contemporary values," Krbec allegedly told Thorholm.

Krbec has since the left the company, Bell Lexus tells New Times.

Before filing suit, the EEOC attempted to settle the matter on Thorholm's behalf.

"A blanket-exclusion policy based on drug use does not accomplish that goal, and may cause problems for the employer if it applies such a policy," Elizabeth Cadle, acting director of EEOC Phoenix, said in a written statement.

(UPDATE: In June 2017, Thorholm, the EEOC and Bell Lexus entered into a consent decree. Bell Lexus made no admissions in the case or took responsibility, but agreed to pay Thorholm $45,000 for back pay and damages. The company also agreed to change its hiring practices. See the PDF of the consent decree below:)

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.