‘You’ll sell it to the Taliban’: Indian sues US car dealer for refusing to sell him a Mercedes Benz

New York: Targeting brown people as potential Taliban sympathisers in America is as old as the 11 September, 2001 terrorist attacks. However, 50-year-old Surjeet Bassi, an Indian national is tired of racial profiling and is suing a New Jersey car dealership for $1.26 million for allegedly refusing to sell him a Mercedes Benz for fear that he might ship it to the Taliban.

When Bassi, 50, who runs a successful medical transport company, and his business partner Deepak Kumar approached Prestige Motors Inc in Bergen County, New Jersey, at the beginning of June, he intended to trade in his old Mercedes-Benz for a newer Mercedes Benz GLS550 SUV with the black interior he desired.

Bassi went through all the hoops: He spent five hours at the dealership choosing a vehicle, then negotiating a price with the salesman. He passed a credit check, paid a $1,000 down payment, and showed the dealership his bank statements. Finally, a deal was reached. Just as Bassi thought the hardest part of the process was over, his day took a turn for the worse.

 ‘You’ll sell it to the Taliban’: Indian sues US car dealer for refusing to sell him a Mercedes Benz

File image of Surjeet Bassi next to the Mercedes Benz vehicle he planned to trade. Image courtesy: Times Herald Record

The manager called Bassi into his office and said he couldn't sell him the car. According to Bassi, the manager told him that he came from a “high-risk area” where people often buy cars and send them to the Taliban.

A startled Bassi, who has lived in New Jersey for 30 years explained that he is originally from India, and is in no way connected to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The lawsuit says a search of Bassi's name on a federal database of those banned from exporting cars turned up nothing, but the manager still refused to sell him a new car. Bassi even offered to sign a waiver stating that he wouldn’t sell the car to anyone for three years. “I said, ‘Give me the paper, I’ll sign it’,” Bassi said, adding, “I have a Mercedes already, if I wanted to export it I would sell that one.”

But the Mercedes car dealership still refused to sell Bassi a new car, which the lawsuit says is "racial stereotyping, premised on the plaintiff's race and appearance" and it wouldn't have happened if he'd been "a white citizen of the United States".

When contacted by Firstpost on Tuesday, the dealership's manager declined to comment.

"Prestige Mercedes Benz values its relationships with customers and prospective customers," spokeswoman Theresa V Boylan later said in a statement, "As a company, we do not condone discriminatory practices or conduct. Out of respect for the process and all parties, it is our policy not to comment on pending legal matters."

Bassi, who said the entire experience left him “rattled" and heartbroken, is now suing the car dealership for $60,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages. His lawyers filed a lawsuit on 5 July in the US District Court in New York's Southern District.

Bassi's civil rights attorney, Michael Sussman, described the appalling incident as “blatant racial discrimination”.

“This is an instance of the madness we’ve come to,” Sussman told the US media.

The law firm said the dealership had violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by refusing to extend credit to Bassi.

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Updated Date: Aug 10, 2016 09:04:03 IST