Dealer Van Bortel sues Ford over dealership purchase agreement

But according to the complaint, a Ford representative on Oct. 25 told Kitty Van Bortel that Henderson Ford had entered into a new purchase agreement to sell the store to West Herr Automotive Group and that the automaker would not exercise a right of first refusal. The Van Bortels allege in their complaint that that is a breach of contract.

On Tuesday, the Van Bortels filed an amended complaint, adding a gender discrimination claim and alleging that Ford violated the New York State Executive Law under which Kitty Van Bortel is part of a protected class as a female.

Ford has not yet answered the lawsuit.

“While we typically don’t comment on active litigation, we categorically reject any assertion that we discriminated against any dealer based on race or gender,” Ford spokesman Ian Thibodeau told Automotive News in an emailed statement.

Kitty Van Bortel referred comment to her lawyer, Leonard Bellavia of the Bellavia Blatt law firm in Mineola, N.Y.

“She’s determined to press the lawsuit because she feels that she’s been victimized,” Bellavia said. “She’s been nothing but loyal to Ford for 20 years. She just feels terribly victimized as both a dealer and a female.”

Last week, the expanding West Herr group of Orchard Park, N.Y., announced it had acquired Henderson Ford. The company confirmed to Automotive News that the transaction closed on Nov. 24.

Former Henderson Ford owner Randy Henderson declined to comment, and West Herr executives did not respond to Automotive News questions about the lawsuit. The dealership has been renamed West Herr Ford of Webster.

In a news release, Henderson said: “Out of the many dealers that expressed an interest in our business, West Herr came forward as the right fit for our staff and family with great values and integrity and I believe will bring additional growth into the Webster and surrounding communities as well as opportunities for our staff.”

Bellavia said he and Kitty Van Bortel, one of Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry in 2005 and 2016 Time Dealer of the Year winner, learned last week that the store had been sold.

West Herr now has four Ford dealerships, including one in Rochester about 16 miles away from Henderson Ford. The group, now with more than 30 locations, got its start in 1950 with a single Ford dealership and is majority owned by Scott Bieler, according to its website.

West Herr ranks No. 22 on Automotive News‘ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 29,085 new vehicles in 2020.

“In bringing to the dealership our additional management talent and technology, dramatically larger new and used inventory, we feel we can grow the dealership and serve Webster and the surrounding communities on the foundation that Randy Henderson built,” Bieler said in a news release.

Van Bortel Ford is about eight miles from Henderson Ford.

Eleanore Beatty

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