Ex-Bondurant Employees Allege Years of Financial Mismanagement and Hostile Work Environment
Two-thirds of the school's employees walked out in November after allegedly enduring years of degrading remarks, unequal treatment, and poor financial decisions.
Former employees of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving who spoke with The ClassicCars.com Journal claim that the school's recent bankruptcy was years in the making due to irresponsible spending, yet the school's finances weren't the only reason it shut down for about five days last month. Twenty-two of the school's 33 employees walked out on the job on Nov. 12 after signing a petition that they wouldn't work for then-CEO Pat Bondurant anymore.
Multiple high-level former Bondurant employees who spoke with the Journal claim that Pat, the wife of the school's eponymous founder Bob Bondurant, made the school a hostile work environment where employees endured degrading comments about women and people of color.
The school was opened by racing legend Bob Bondurant in 1968 and moved to its current purpose-built facility in 1990. However, Pat is a relatively recent addition, having joined the staff in 2010 just two months after her marriage to Bob. Shortly thereafter, she gained a 51 percent ownership stake in the school and became its president. She took on the additional role of CEO in 2017.
Bondurant was run as somewhat of a family affair, with Pat's biological son Jason serving as vice president at the school and running most of the day-to-day operations before the walkout. Yet several ex-employees claim that Pat was responsible for making Bondurant a miserable place to work, often talking about employees and customers in a derogatory manner.
Former employees who spoke with the Journal said that Pat had a special disdain for the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler and Gilbert, even going so far as to insult their residents in front of at least one employee who lived there. The Journal writes:
Jason Bondurant [...] recalled [Pat] asking why the school was not seeking out hires from other parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area [besides Chandler and Gilbert], as they are “white, educated, and they have money and they come from money.”
This wasn't the only time Pat brought up race, sometimes even in reference to workers or students at the school. The Journal writes:
Two years ago, on the advice of an external human relations company, Jason Bondurant said he sent his mother home for two weeks after a worker overheard her making racist comments. He said she appeared to avoid such language for a few weeks but made another remark after attending President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
“This was said in a group of all my managers in a managers’ meeting: When she got back from Washington, D.C. for Trump’s inauguration, she came back and said, ‘Oh my god, when President Obama was elected all the black people must have followed him there because it was like going through Planet of the Apes,'” Jason Bondurant recalled.
Other conflicts over Pat's language and actions noted by staff members who spoke with the Journal included her complaining within earshot of the lobby that a company shooting on-site had a Mexican starring in their film, as well as a battle with staff to remove a cardboard stand-up of Donald Trump from the conference room.
Pat also was known for treating the women she encountered at the school far differently than the men there, as the Journal details:
“She was very dismissive to me and other women in the office,” Arvizu wrote. “The male employees would get hugs and smiles and she was much nicer to the men.”
For her part, Johnson said she overheard Pat Bondurant say that staffers should tell female students to not dress like prostitutes.
This discriminatory treatment of women extended to hiring decisions, as Jason claims that Pat eliminated women who were "too attractive" at least three times in hiring searches.
All of this was happening on top of years of mounting financial woes, which ex-employees told the Journal was in part due to Pat's fondness for lavish events. Former financial controller Lavida Arvizu said that she advised Pat Bondurant to lay off staff and restructure as far back as 2016 to no avail. That summer, the school got down to a balance of under $80,000. An inability to pay September's rent and make payroll in addition to other operational expenses, a cancelled Department of Defense contract and Dodge's removal of its Vipers from the school's training fleet were cited by the school in court documents as factors that led to their lack of cash, with no mention of Pat or events spending specifically.
Going against Pat was an uphill battle, according to multiple staff members who told the Journal that she would often target specific employees who got on her bad side.
These decisions culminated in Bondurant filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October. However, Pat reportedly considered filing for Chapter 7, which would have immediately shut down operations. When Pat allegedly instructed Jason and Arvizu not to tell the employees that the school may close on Nov. 16, they went against her wishes. The duo told the rest of the staff anyway out of fears that employees might be shafted by such a deal, and walked off the job afterward.
"I was pleading with Pat and the bankruptcy attorney to agree upon a close date so we could ensure that employees would be paid in full before the doors closed,” Arvizu said in an email the Journal.
This prompted 22 of Bondurant's 33 employees to sign a petition calling for Pat to step down from day-to-day operations at the school (but retain her ownership stake) and let Jason take over that role, which didn't go over well with Pat, as Jason told the Journal via email:
"We handed Pat the petition and said that everyone is frustrated and upset, the best chance we have for this company is to keep everyone happy and focused on the job at hand especially with the daunting task we are facing."
"Pat threw the petition at me and said ‘[Expletive] you’ and then quickly got up from her chair to leave."
Jason denies that he led some kind of a hostile takeover, as he told the Journal that his primary goal was to keep the school running, either under his watch or a new buyer's.
After the petition was denied, the employees walked out. Arvizu claimed that employees simply did not trust Pat to ensure they were paid without Jason and Arvizu there advocating on their behalf.
The school's new Chief Restructuring Officer Timothy Shaffer noted to the Journal that the school never missed a payroll—which is good because doing so would have made the bankruptcy case more complicated. However, he admitted that he could not speak as to what conversations happened before he arrived.
The school has since reopened with a full schedule under the guidance of Shaffer, who has taken over most of the day-to-day operations.
Shaffer told The Drive that the ultimate decisions on where the school goes from here are now in his hands.
"Pat has retained me, and vested all authority for operations in me," Shaffer said in a phone conversation. "We're just moving forward. In terms of what happened in the history [of the school], it's not affecting me at all and it's not affecting the operations of the school other than the fact that everybody keeps bringing it up," he continued.
Shaffer also mentioned that he "hasn't seen any examples" of the kinds of behavior that employees allege of Pat.
Likewise, Pat and Bob released a statement denying the employees' allegations to the Journal:
"We vehemently deny the allegations that have been made by a handful of former employees about how the school was being managed. This entire matter has broken Bob’s heart. We’re working through the proper legal channels to make the best choices for the long-term health and success of the school. We’re confident that once all of the legal matters are behind us and the school emerges from the restructuring, the truth will be told through the proper channels."
It's shocking to hear that this all happened at one of the nation's most well-known and well-regarded racing schools. You can read ClassicCars.com Journal's report in its entirety here.
Lingering complications from what happened before still taint the environment at Bondurant. While some employees who left were offered their jobs back after the walkout, a number of former employees refuse to work there as long as Pat remains part of the organization. Currently, she and Bob have remained on as consultants during the restructuring of the company, with Shaffer running most of the daily operations.
More recently, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles alleges that the school had not properly insured the fleet of Fiat and Dodge performance cars loaned to the track, and thus, was in breach of their contracts. Per court documents:
Both the Dodge Contract and the Fiat Contract (collectively the “Agreements”) contain specified insurance coverage that must be in place and maintained by the Bondurant School (the “Insurance Coverage”). On Nov. 27, 2018, Debtor provided FCA with certain certificates of insurance. The insurance in place expires Dec 31, 2018 (the “Insurance Expiration Date”). Based on the certificates, FCA is concerned that the insurance that is currently in place does not meet the Agreements’ requirements, whereas the Debtor believes it is compliant.
FCA and Bondurant were in the process of renegotiating the promotional agreement for classes involving Fiat vehicles when Bondurant filed for bankruptcy in October. The last Fiat contract they had ended on its own terms in August 2018. The Dodge contract was renewed earlier this year and remains in force.
As such, the court ordered Bondurant to complete an inventory of all their FCA-owned vehicles by the close of business Friday. They also must prove to FCA that its vehicles are adequately insured or else FCA may take the very fleet which Bondurant uses for many of its regular programs.
"I think that the incident involving the employees made Dodge and Fiat want to take an audit," Shaffer told The Drive about the insurance allegations. He reiterated that the school has turned over all of its certificates of insurance to FCA and is working to fulfill any other requests they have in the interest of continuing that partnership.
"I talk to them at least once a week. The relationship is still solid, and they're still supporting us. We're cooperating...We're rebuilding that relationship," Shaffer continued.
The Drive also reached out to an FCA representative for comment on these allegations and will update this story when we hear back.
The school's primary clients are FCA and government agencies who use the facility for training. This weekend, the school is hosting the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, which boasts a $200,000 scholarship prize to entrants looking to move into the USF2000 series.