Jerome Staley, a former AAMCO manager, speaks during a virtual press conference about his claims that the company paid him less because of his race.
CNN  — 

A Black former executive of the transmission repair chain AAMCO who says he was featured in marketing materials showcasing “diversity” is suing the company over alleged racial discrimination, allegations the company denies.

Jerome Staley, who was vice president of operations for the East region, claims in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that he earned nearly $40,000 less per year than his counterparts. All other vice presidents with the company are White, the lawsuit alleges.

When Staley learned of the alleged racial pay disparity last year, he complained to the company’s leadership. But according to the suit, AAMCO Chief Executive Officer James Gregory said he was “disappointed” in Staley for complaining of race discrimination and responded to Staley’s complaint by telling him, “You make enough,” the suit filed in the eastern district of Pennsylvania says.

Staley claims he later suffered retaliation for his complaints when he did not receive a $11,000 bonus as a result of the performance of his territory during the third quarter of 2021, according to the lawsuit. After asking why he had not been paid, Staley was told the company’s leadership was withholding the bonus because they did not think he had “sufficiently trained his team,” according to the lawsuit, which claims Staley was ranked first in the company for that quarter.

Last November, Staley left his job because he “was unwilling to work for a company that denied him equal pay,” according to the lawsuit.

After leaving the company, Staley sought to co-own an AAMCO franchise in Aiken, South Carolina, but the company denied his application, the lawsuit says.

When he asked why his application was denied, the suit alleges he was told by Kimberly Robinson, who was the company’s director of franchise development at the time, that it was “because of how you left.” But the lawsuit states that her explanation was not credible because he resigned from the company, rather than being terminated. The suit says Staley gave reasonable notice, worked through his notice period, and alleges that the CEO tried to convince him to stay at AAMCO. The suit names Robinson as a defendant, along with AAMCO and Gregory, for retaliating against him after he left the company by denying his franchise application because of his opposition to race discrimination in compensation.

“AAMCO’s racist pay practices are unacceptable. While promoting itself as a paragon of corporate diversity, AAMCO chose to drastically underpay its only Black executive and retaliating against him for expecting equal compensation. American corporations can’t just talk the talk on diversity, equity and inclusion,” Ashlie Case Sletvold, one of the attorneys representing Staley, told reporters at a virtual news conference on Wednesday.

In a statement to CNN, Gregory and AAMCO’s parent company, American Driveline Systems, said the company “takes these allegations very seriously. While we cannot discuss the details of these claims due to the pendency of the litigation, we can say that they are without merit and we will vigorously defend against them.”

CNN has reached out to Robinson for comment.

Staley told reporters at the news conference that he invested years of his life in a company that only valued him as a “Black poster child” to promote inclusivity. The lawsuit argues Staley was featured prominently in company marketing materials in the months after the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Case Sletvold, Staley’s attorney, said he appeared on TV representing AAMCO and traveled to meet with potential new hires of color.

“While I was working my tail off for AAMCO, it was using me to make itself look diverse and refusing to pay me what my White colleagues made,” Staley said.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, including but not limited to back pay, lost profits, damages for emotional distress and attorney fees.

“Nothing is going to make Jerome feel like he wasn’t wronged here but certainly an acknowledgment that he was underpaid and an effort to correct that disparity now and in the future would be welcomed from the defendants,” Case Sletvold said.