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Avis Accused Of Refusing Rentals To Blacks

November 12, 1996

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) _ Five Avis Rent-A-Car franchises in the Carolinas have repeatedly denied rentals to blacks over the past few years, a class-action lawsuit contends.

John Dalton, who owns all five franchises, told his workers to do anything they could to avoid renting to black people, the lawsuit says. A civil rights group estimated hundreds of blacks were discriminated against.

Dalton ridiculed the charges.

``We rent to every nationality, every color, every creed under the sun,″ he said. ``If I was a bad guy, don’t you think something would have surfaced before now?″

An Avis spokesman and a North Carolina lawyer retained by Avis declined comment.

Montgomery Carter, a former manager at Dalton’s Greenville and New Bern franchises, said Dalton told his workers to deny rentals to black customers who want to drive long distances in short times.

``Dalton has told me that, `If a nigger is driving that distance in a short amount of time, he must be dealing drugs,‴ Carter told USA Today in today’s editions.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which filed the suit last week, was to hold a news conference today in Raleigh.

The suit was filed on behalf of three named plaintiffs plus an undetermined number of black customers at the five franchises. It seeks unspecified damages.

Dalton owns North Carolina franchises in Wilmington, Greenville, New Bern, Kinston and Jacksonville and another in Florence, S.C. The lawsuit claims rentals were denied at five of the six locations, including the franchise in South Carolina.

Linda Pugh says she had arranged by telephone to rent four minivans at the Wilmington Avis franchise in July 1995, according to court documents. When she went to pick up the cars, she was told she could not rent the vehicles.

Blacks have complained about being refused rentals at the other locations in the Carolinas for years, the civil rights group said. The group’s lawyer, John Relman, urged Avis to take responsibility.

``Are we dealing with a corporate structure that allows indifference to racism? That just allows racism to flourish?″ he asked.

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