Anyone can file a lawsuit. I learned that as a newspaper court reporter.
All it takes is a court filing fee and usually a lawyer, although I saw some suits penned by plaintiffs themselves. Those were wild.
I’m not discounting the validity of a lawsuit stemming from the Ed Napleton dealership group and claiming Fiat Chrysler Automobiles broke U.S. racketeering laws by falsifying sales numbers to look good.
Nor am I jumping to the conclusion FCA hired people because their resume showed they had strong backgrounds as racketeers. Government anti-racketeering laws were enacted with gangsters, not automakers, in mind.
People’s reactions to headline-making lawsuits typically follow certain patterns.
Commentators and others often quote liberally from the lawsuit, assuming that if it’s in a filed court document, it must be true. Conversely, plaintiffs typically and flatly deny all accusations.
The automaker says the claims are baseless and come from “disgruntled” plaintiffs.
The suit alleges FCA Business Centers oversaw a scheme in cahoots with certain dealers. The centers allegedly came up with names at random, dubbed them customers, did a bogus paper deal, recorded the sales and then voided them forthwith. If that’s true, someone is in trouble.
The Great Lakes business center is specifically named. “I’ve had buddies there; some still there, some recently retired,” a friend, who is a former Chrysler dealership manager, tells me. “I bet they’re all shaking in their boots over the upcoming deposition.”
FCA says, “Notwithstanding numerous requests to provide evidence of this alleged activity, the plaintiffs have refused to substantiate their claims.”
Of course, at some point in the process, they must say what actual evidence they have. That's the way the system works.
It’s not as if FCA as an organization is incapable of such a thing. As with any big business, rogue employees can do dumb and dumber (and illegal) things.
Ten years ago, WardsAuto reported how then-Chrysler had built vehicles that were not part of monthly sales reports. That so-called sales bank of “unassigned vehicles” hit about 100,000 units as the company waited for dealers to buy them. Meanwhile, dealers complained Chrysler was trying to shove inventory down their throats.
When the questionable (but not illegal) shadow-inventory practice was revealed, it showed Chrysler’s overall market picture was bleaker than we had thought. Not good.
We’ve seen this before: If a company pressures employees enough, desperate people will do desperate things. Like the scandalous Volkswagen engineers who used software to distort diesel engine performance testing.
They were in a work culture that told them to get better fuel economy or we’ll get someone who can. So they got it. And now VW faces a crisis of epic proportions.
Even if the sales-fudging charges against FCA are substantiated, it’s doubtful it would join VW in the main room of the automotive hall of shame.
If the court process shows the allegations are true, the automaker will look real bad though. If the process shows they’re not true, someone owes FCA a big apology. And more.