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Avis files motion against franchise owner accused of discrimination

December 12, 1996

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) _ Avis Rent-A-Car officials said Wednesday they have asked a judge to order the owner of a North Carolina franchise to cease managing the operation until a racial discrimination lawsuit is decided.

The Garden City, N.Y., based rental car company filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina following an internal investigation.

But an attorney for the franchise’s owner said his client, John Dalton, denies New Hanover Rent-A-Car refused to rent to anyone on the basis of race and is planning to oppose the injunction.

``New Hanover Rent-A-Car will vigorously oppose this precipitate and unwarranted attempt to seize its property and to deprive it of its rights as an Avis franchisee,″ said attorney Frank Ward.

Ward said Dalton had not seen the Avis report and could not comment on specific allegations.

The action by Avis is in response to a lawsuit filed by three black women against the nation’s second largest car rental company. The lawsuit claims the women were denied service at Avis outlets. Former employees alleged Dalton trained his staff to avoid renting to black people.

The complaints involve Dalton’s franchise, which operates outlets in the North Carolina towns of Wilmington, Jacksonville, New Bern and Greenville and in Florence, S.C.

John Relman, the plaintiffs’ attorney in Washington, D.C., said Avis’ move would not affect the lawsuit.

``It is way too little, too late,″ he said. ``The big question is what did Avis corporate know about these practices and when did they know it.″

Avis officials said in a statement the request for an injunction followed an internal investigation that found additional customer complaints of alleged racial discrimination against New Hanover’s operations over the last eight years.

``We’re very concerned about these findings, and we believe strongly that New Hanover should step aside as a franchisee until the court renders its decision in the wrongful discrimination case,″ Joseph Vittoria, Avis chairman and chief executive, said. ``We will not tolerate unlawful discrimination by anyone licensed to use the Avis name.″

The review of records went back eight years and turned up an additional 26 complaints of racial discrimination by New Hanover. The review was conducted independently by Morrison Cohen Simon & Weinstein.

The company said it would continue to review its policies and procedures to ensure that all complaints are handled appropriately and that there is no indication of wrongful discrimination at any Avis facility.

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