A rivalry between Toyota dealers degenerated into racial slurs. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Dion Gillard/Flickr)

Iranian-born Shawn Esfahani of Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, Ala., was awarded $7.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages after a judge ruled that an auto dealership competitor slandered him by referring to Esfahani’s business as “Taliban Toyota.” Esfahani originally sought $28 million from Bob Tyler Toyota of Pensacola, Fla.

Shawn Esfahani is not an Islamist militant

Bob Tyler Toyota, which is one hour driving distance east of Daphne, publicly attacked Esfahani. Bob Tyler sales manager Fred Kenner reportedly told at least one couple who was considering buying from Eastern Shore Toyota that owner Esfahani was of Middle Eastern descent and was “helping fund the insurgents there and is also laundering money for them.”

A salesman from Bob Tyler reportedly told the same couple that Esfahani was from Iraq and claimed he was one of the terrorists who endangered U.S. soldiers like the salesman’s brother.

“(Esfahani) is funneling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there, and what you’re doing is helping kill my brother,” said the salesman.

Esfahani fled Islamist militants in 1980

According to court records, Esfahani, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, left Iran in 1980 after the Shiite Islamic revolution toppled the U.S.-backed Shah from power. Esfahani founded Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne in 2007.

Un-American activities

A jury awarded Esfahani $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages on Monday evening. More than the monetary settlement, what Esfahani claims to have wanted was vindication in his stand against underhanded business tactics that he considers “un-American.”

“The feeling I received in the courtroom for the truth to come out was worth a lot more than any money anybody can give me,” Esfahani told Reuters.

Desperation and bigotry

Esfahani lawyer Vincent Kilborn told the jury in closing arguments that Bob Tyler resorted to cheating by using racial slurs to sway automotive shoppers.

“Bob Tyler couldn’t compete,” Kilborn said. “Mr. Tyler decided he was going to cheat… This company is a bigot company because they used a man’s national origin to help the mud stick,” Kilborn said.

The ‘Taliban Toyota’ controversy


Eastern Shore Toyota: http://www.easternshoretoyota.com/

Mobile Press-Register: http://blog.al.com/live/2011/10/jury_awards_75_million_to_east.html

Reuters: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20111103/RETAIL07/111109938/1422

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