Jury awards $2.6 million to former manager of car dealerships

The former manager of two Granbury car dealerships, fired for allegedly taking kickbacks, won a $2.6 million jury award Tuesday against Weatherford auto dealer Jerry Durant after a grueling eight-week trial over allegations of defamation and breach of contract.

“The truth came out. The truth came out,” the ex-manager, Andrew Anderson, 53, of Weatherford, said after exhausted but relieved jurors filed from the seventh-floor courtroom, two of them high-fiving each other.

Durant said: “I was very disappointed with the verdict. I don’t know what I am going to do.”

Earlier, Durant stood by the courtroom door and watched Anderson as his former 10-year employee walked past without glancing in his direction.

One of Durant’s attorneys, Andrew D. Sims of Harris, Finley and Bogle, told District Judge Bonnie Sudderth, who was sitting in for Judge Susan Heygood McCoy, that a number of post-verdict motions would follow, indicating a possible appeal.

The jury upheld what Anderson said was a handshake agreement with Jerry Durant in 2011 to turn around ailing Hyundai and Toyota dealerships, which he claimed included 10 percent ownership of both operations.

Durant denied that such a deal was struck, although his auto group’s promotional materials described Anderson as “principal/partner” of the two Granbury dealerships.

On the eve of the dealerships’ 2012 sale, Anderson was fired for allegedly overpaying for 15 used cars from an auto wholesaler, who then supposedly slipped some of the purchase money to Anderson. The dealer said it resulted in losses on the retail sales.

But the plaintiffs presented evidence from the dealerships’ own sales recap sheets that showed the 15 cars made more than $16,000 in profit. Anderson claimed he was terminated so Durant would not have to pay him his share of the two businesses when they sold.

Anderson alleged that William “Randy” Shapiro, a partner at Bruce Lowry Chevrolet, and five others repeated the baseless kickback allegation. Shapiro and the others settled the defamation claims out of court, said Anderson’s attorney, Hugh Connor of Kelly, Hart & Hallman. The terms are confidential, he said. Shapiro did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The kickback story spread through the region’s car trade, and Anderson could not find a management position in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, Connor said. As a result, Anderson has been commuting three hours a day to work at a dealership in Graham.

The jury awarded Anderson $1.6 million for damage to his reputation, $629,000 in lost earnings and $386,150 for his 10 percent of the Granbury businesses. (Anderson had been seeking $1.6 million for his share of the dealerships alone.)

Jurors threw out a host of counterclaims filed by Durant but did find that Anderson was not entitled to a share of the land where the dealerships sat.