July 15--The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has ordered the owner of a Burlington towing and auto repair service to pay a woman $5,000 for emotional distress after he used racial slurs against her and refused to tow her car two years ago.
Geralyn Allison of West Burlington was awarded the damages against Mike Campbell, the owner of Campbell's Body Shop and Towing, 200 Angular St., following a public hearing March 7 in Des Moines.
In announcing her decision Monday, Administrative Law Judge Laura Lockard said Campbell used "highly racial epithets" during the incident. Lockard ruled Allison proved Campbell and his company "committed unfair or discriminatory practices" against her.
"Allison credibly testified at the hearing that she felt hurt, belittled and less human after Campbell refused service to her and called her a highly charged racial slur," Lockard wrote. "The evidence demonstrates (there was another witness) present when Campbell used the racial epithets."
Campbell denied using racial slurs during the incident.
"That's not what happened," Campbell said Monday. "This was a billing deal. I wasn't going to get paid if I towed it to a salvage yard. I didn't use racial slurs ... I just decided to go ahead and pay it (the fine), rather than keep dragging it through the courts."
Allison could not be reached for comment Monday.
The dispute centered on Allison wanting Campbell to tow her vehicle, which was not operable, to a salvage yard instead of an auto repair shop.
According to Lockard's 13-page opinion, the incident occurred in April 2012 when Campbell went to Allison's residence in West Burlington after receiving a request from a roadside assistance organization to tow her vehicle.
"Allison had auto insurance through Farmers Insurance," according to the opinion. "Allison paid extra for a policy that provided roadside assistance, which included coverage for towing.
"On at least 10 occasions prior to the date that gave rise to the complaint, Campbell was the business who Allison's insurance company contracted with to provide roadside assistance services to Allison, including towing."
On this occasion, when Campbell got to Allison's residence, she was not ready for the car to be towed but wanted a few more minutes to prepare. Campbell told her he "didn't have all day."
After a brief conversation, Campbell refused to tow her car, then used racial epithets against her as he left, according to a press release issued by Beth Townsend, executive director of the ICRC.
"Following a public hearing brought by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of Allison after she filed a complaint alleging she was denied service ... because of her race in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act," according to Townsend.
Allison asked the court to order Campbell to pay $10,000 in fines to her, but Lockard awarded $5,000 instead.
"There is no evidence regarding how long this incident impacted Allison, nor is there any evidence that Allison sought medical or psychiatric help as a result of the incident," wrote Lockard, an attorney with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. "Under these circumstances an award of $5,000 for emotional distress is appropriate."
According to Townsend, the following incident led to the filing of the complaint with the ICRC:
"Ms. Allison hired Mike Campbell'sBody Shop and Towing, Inc., to tow her car in April 2012. Although she had previously used (Campbell's) ... the owner showed up at her residence for the first time (that day).
"Mr. Campbell told Ms. Allison that 'he now knows why she always needed towing services ... and to hurry up because he didn't have all day.'
"Mr. Campbell also used profanity in speaking to her and before getting back into his truck to leave, he yelled 'you (expletive) niggers,' before driving away without towing the car. In the hearing, Mr. Campbell denied such behavior."
Campbell told Lockard he refused to tow Allison's vehicle because "the customer was not ready to have the vehicle moved and also misinformed the motor club of the tow destination ... I then left without providing service to her."
Townsend said the civil rights commission completed an investigation and took the case to a public hearing March 7 after conciliation efforts between the two parties failed to reach a resolution.
"This case demonstrates two truths," Townsend said. "One, that racial discrimination is unfortunately still occurring within the state of Iowa. Second, individuals and businesses that commit this misconduct will be held accountable.
"Ms. Allison was committed to ensuring that others did not experience similar treatment and with the assistance of the ICRC, she succeeded."
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