A lawsuit filed in Florence County for seven “former or current” Raceway gas station employees accuses a store owner of sexually assaulting them on several occasions, and says another store operator knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it.
The complaint, filed on April 26 in Florence County Circuit Court, says the assaults occurred at Raceway 957 gas station at 1801 W. Lucas St. and Raceway 6954 at 4019 E. Palmetto St. in Florence.
According to the complaint, Dezendra “Dev” Patel was the primary owner and operator of both stations at the time of the accusations. It says he sexually assaulted and battered each of the plaintiffs, as well as numerous other employees not named in the suit.
Attorneys for both men say their clients deny the accusations.
The complaint lists some of the alleged assaults as forcibly groping, repeatedly rubbing his penis against their bodies, forcible kissing, propositioning sex in a back room, pulling or grabbing them to keep them in a back room, offering extra money in their paychecks for sex and using surveillance cameras to watch them, then making perverse remarks to them.
The plaintiffs are seeking actual and punitive damages from both franchised stores, the parent company --RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., Patel, as well as Darshak “Danny” Brahmbhatt, who is accused of knowing about the assaults but taking no action to stop it.
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs repeatedly told Brahmbhatt about the abuse but he never took action to stop it.
Jake Kennedy is the attorney representing Patel, and J. René Josey is the attorney for Brahmbhatt and both Raceway stations. They said their clients deny all accusations made against them.
Kennedy and Josey provided the Morning News with a prepared statement regarding the allegations made against their clients.
“All allegations of the complaint are denied and the Defendants will vigorously defend them in Court,” the counselors said. “Because the underlying claim is essentially one of discriminatory work conditions, the matter is really one of federal law and the case has been moved to federal court for that reason. Local Court Rules will not allow attorneys to comment upon the facts of a pending matter, but we look forward to testing the veracity and motivations for these claimants through the judicial process.”
The attorney for the plaintiffs, William J. Tuck, said the time frames of the assaults vary but each occurred within the recent past.
“The complaint pretty much speaks for itself,” Tuck said. “It’s very detailed.
RaceTrac Petroleum is the corporate entity of the Raceway stores, and is accused in the complaint of providing the space for the sexual battery and having knowledge of Patel’s’ unlawful activities but continuing to support the business.
Legal representatives for RaceTrac said they’re certain the suit against them will be dropped.
“RaceWay is a contractor-operated division of RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. RaceTrac is not a franchisor, thus does not monitor or control the employment practices of any RaceWay service stations,” said attorney Jeffrey Lehrer. “ RaceTrac owns and leases the premises in this case to Atkinson 164, LLC and Atkinson 165, LLC and requires they comply with a Lease Agreement and Gasoline Services Agreement. We are confident that the Plaintiffs will voluntarily dismiss this lawsuit in the near future based on RaceTrac’s lack of involvement in the allegations of this case.”
RaceTrac operates more than 600 company-owned and third-party contract-operated stores under the RaceTrac and RaceWay names in 12 states across the Southeast, according to its website.
The complaint also states that Patel had previously been charged, either civilly or unlawfully, with sexual assault and battery.
Josey and Kennedy filed for the case to be tried in federal court. Tuck has opposed that motion in hopes of moving the case back to the state court system.