Rose Hills salesman’s lawsuit alleges the cemetery undermines him because he’s not Asian

by in News

A Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuaries salesman has accused his employer of discriminating against him because he’s not of Asian descent, unlike a large number of the cemetery’s clients.

Bill Conlon is suing his employer, Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuaries (Photo courtesy BOHM Law Group)

Building rapport with the Asian community in Southern California is a primary business goal of Rose Hills’ corporate owners, but Bill Conlon, 58, of Fullerton, who is white, said he wasn’t viewed as up to the task.

Conlon filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. He alleges he was treated differently than the cemetery’s Asian sales employees, who were allowed to:

  • Skip mandatory phone bank shifts so they can meet more potential clients of Asian descent.
  • Provide additional discounts above the standard maximum discount.
  • Meet families before they enter Rose Hill’s main building, a violation of company policy.
  • Sell more than 10 burial plots to each family, also in violation of  company policy.
  • Pass out business cards to grieving family members, also against company policy.
  • Attend feng shui seminars.

Perhaps most damning, Colon’s lawsuit describes a system in which Asian salespeople would give to potential clients a red envelope filled with cash, a ceremonial traditional typically reserved for Lunar New Year and other special occasions. Conlon refused to participate in this practice, his lawsuit says.

Rose Hills, which operates a 1,400-acre cemetery in unincorporated North Whittier, considered to be the largest in North America, denies the allegations.

“Rose Hills is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to providing a work environment free of unlawful discrimination and harassment,” said a statement relayed by Kristen Bennett, Rose Hills spokeswoman, “All employees are trained on a policy against discrimination and the company does not tolerate any action that violates this policy.”

‘All in on their Asian clientele’

Conlon’s attorney Bradley Mancuso said by phone Wednesday the discrimination against employees is borne from the push to sell to Asians.

“They’ve gone all in on their Asian clientele to the exclusion of other races,” he said. “My client is getting deals blocked because he’s not allowed to associate with Asian clientele. He’s been wronged. No employer can mistreat their employee based on race. That’s wrong. It’s illegal.”

Conlon’s lawsuit also accused Rose Hills of “unethical/illegal business practices,” such as permitting its counselors to do a “bait and switch” with more expensive plots — described to a potential client as a “better location” — and misrepresenting plots’ locations.

The focus on building an Asian clientele came at the cost to Latinos, who were guided to “poorly developed” portions of the cemetery with overhead utility wires, limited parking and “entry-level plots,” according to the lawsuit.

“Rose Hills knew that members of the Asian community would not want to buy property in these areas,” the lawsuit says. Sales staff would consistently contact Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Roman-Catholic Church, a primarily Latino congregation in El Monte, to discuss available burial plots in these poorly developed areas.

An initial rising star

Conlon was hired Oct. 12, 2012, as a family service counselor to sell burial plots and provide associated services, such as funeral arrangements, placing gravestones, and negotiating building contracts with management for construction of places of worship.

He initially was paid $12 per hour, but most of his compensation came from a 18.5% commission on any sales contracts completed, according to Mancuso in the lawsuit. His compensation eventually switched to an all-commission plan set at 20%.

Conlon’s problems began in January 2013, when he discovered 2,000 previously-thought unavailable spaces in the Garden of Eternity, an area Rose Hills wanted to keep exclusively Asian, Mancuso wrote. His client wanted to offer those gravesites but was banned from selling any burial plots in the Garden of Eternity, even to Asians, he wrote.

Conlon was told that only counselors of Asian descent could sell property there, Mancuso said.

“You don’t understand how to sell to the Asians, so let’s not ruin it,” Conlon was told, according to the lawsuit.

Mancuso said Conlon lost four deals, amounting to millions of dollars in potential sales, because of Rose Hills’ refusal to treat him similarly to the counselors of Asian descent.

Conlon’s career with Rose Hills started positively, and as recently as 2017, he was recognized as the one of the top counselors at Rose Hills, with $3,721,656 million in sales, according to the lawsuit.

A big hit to the paycheck

Conlon lost another large deal in which the customer wanted to build 100 contiguous burial plots for his family, 1,000 burial plots to donate to members of his mosque, and the construction of an on-site mosque.

“It was pretty close to being finalized, but it was taken from him and the deal never went through,” Mancuso said. “It was because it was Muslim-based.”

Because of the actions described in his lawsuit, Conlon said his commissions now are only 20 percent of what they used to be.  He declined to provide exact figures.

Asked why he stays, Conlon said, “I enjoy what I do. I help individuals get through the toughest time of their life.”