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Perry v. Autozoners, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky

June 4, 2013

SHANA PERRY, et al., PLAINTIFFS
v.
AUTOZONERS, LLC, et al., DEFENDANTS

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Shana Perry, Damon Harper, Daryl Quiney, Plaintiffs: Charles W. Miller, Rheanne D. Falkner, Miller & Falkner, Louisville, KY.

For Autozone Stores, Inc., Autozone Development Corporation, Autozone Texas, L.P., Autozoners, LLC, Autozone, Inc., Defendants: Vasilios Manthos, LEAD ATTORNEY, Christine S. Goldberg, The Kullman Firm, Baton Rouge, LA; Augustus S. Herbert, Middleton Reutlinger, Louisville, KY.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

John G. Heyburn II, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs Shana Perry, Daryl Quiney, and Damon Harper brought suit against

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their former employer, Defendant AutoZoners, LLC [1] (" Autozone" ), for a number of alleged injuries arising from the interaction between Plaintiffs and their supervisors. Perry brought five counts individually, and Quiney and Harper together brought two counts. Autozone has filed two motions for summary judgment. Presently before the Court is Autozone's motion for summary judgment as to the claims brought by Quiney and Harper for racial discrimination and retaliation. The Court will consider Perry's claims in a later memorandum.

The Court has considered the lengthy briefs filed in support and opposition of this motion. The circumstances of these claims and the unusual nature of them make for a complicated analysis. For the reasons the follow, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

I.

The general timeline of events is undisputed. Perry, a Commercial Sales Manager, worked at Autozone Store No. 612 on Broadway in Louisville, Kentucky (the " Broadway Store" ). Mark DeHaan, the Store Manager at the Broadway Store in the summer of 2010, allegedly engaged in persistent and frequent sexual harassment of Perry between June 14, 2010 and July 23, 2010. That day, Perry called Dawn Brandenburg, the Regional Human Resources Manager in charge of the Broadway Store, to set up a meeting, which took place the following Monday on July 26, 2010. During the meeting, Perry disclosed the nature of DeHaan's conduct towards her over the past weeks. During her subsequent investigation into DeHaan's behavior (the " Investigation" ), Brandenburg interviewed Quiney and Harper as witnesses of the alleged inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances. According to Autozone, it then fired Quiney and Harper due to statements elicited during the Investigation that indicated they witnessed and failed to report DeHaan's harassment of Perry, in violation of company policy. Autozone terminated Quiney on August 10, 2010 and Harper the following day.

The facts particular to Quiney are as follows: Autozone hired Quiney, an African-American, in December of 2007. He served as Assistant Manager at several stores in Louisville, Kentucky, and even as a temporary store manager at one location, before Autozone

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transferred him to the Broadway Store. Autozone does not contest Plaintiffs' characterization of the Broadway Store as experiencing an inordinate amount of theft due to its location in a neighborhood fraught with a high crime rate. Quiney contends that Autozone transferred him to the Broadway Store because " he was a good fit for the customers" in an area populated by an African-American majority. Around the time of his transfer to the Broadway Store, then Store Manager Tim Hedley, Caucasian, allegedly told Quiney that District Manager Donnie Helstern, also Caucasian, would never hire an African-American store manager. Quiney worked as the Assistant Store Manager at the Broadway Store until his termination.

During Quiney's employment, Autozone promoted Hedley out of the store manager position at the Broadway Store and replaced him with DeHaan, who is half African-American and half Caucasian. Quiney once approached DeHaan to warn him to watch his behavior towards Perry. That same week, Autozone placed Quiney on a performance improvement plan called a Corrective Action Review (" CAR" ), requiring a 30-day performance review that would result in a reduction in pay and responsibility if his work performance did not improve.

The facts particular to Harper are as follows: Autozone hired Harper, an African-American, in July of 2008. He worked as an Assistant Manager prior to his transfer to the Broadway Store, and held that title temporarily upon arrival at the Broadway Store. Autozone employees also told Harper that he was a " good fit" for the location, which Harper took to mean that Autozone transferred him there because he related to the predominantly African-American customer base. When Helstern took over as District Manager, Helstern and Autozone determined that the Broadway Store did not need two assistant managers. Autozone changed Harper's title and job responsibilities to that of a Parts Sales Manager, although he did not receive a reduction in pay. He served as the Broadway Store Parts Sales Manager until his termination.

At some point in July of 2010, Harper complained to Helstern about DeHaan's managerial conduct, divulging that DeHaan often took long lunches and did not return after lunch. Shortly thereafter, Autozone placed Harper on a CAR with similar work improvement contingencies placed upon Quiney.

Perry reported the extent of DeHaan's sexual harassment against her to Brandenburg on July 26, 2010, naming as witnesses Quiney, Harper, and Grover Jones, another Autozone employee with an unknown position at the Broadway Store. All named witnesses are African-American. Brandenburg interviewed Quiney and Harper in a method Autozone refers to as a Question and Answer. During the interviews with Quiney and Harper, Brandenburg determined that Quiney and Harper both witnessed inappropriate and likely unwelcome sexual advances by DeHaan and failed to report these incidents. Specifically, Quiney witnessed DeHaan swat Perry on the backside. Harper witnessed DeHaan encroaching on Perry's personal space to the point where he appeared as if he was going to kiss her. Harper also saw DeHaan ask Perry to work up front, and as she walked by, look at her backside and smile. Brandenburg sent the Question and Answer responses to her superiors, who recommended the termination of Quiney and Harper. Human Resources sent the recommendation to Regional Manager Jay Campbell, who adopted the recommendation, and with the help of Helstern, communicated the termination notices to Quiney and Harper. Caucasian employees replaced Quiney and Harper at the Broadway Store.

According to Autozone, Quiney and Harper violated a zero tolerance corporate policy for reporting any instances of sexual harassment. During this case and in testimony before the Kentucky Unemployment Commission, Autozone cited various provisions

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that it claims constitutes this zero tolerance policy: 1) the " Reporting Illegal or Unethical Behavior" policy subsection called " Managers/Supervisors' Obligation for Problem Resolution", 2) the " Reporting Illegal or Unethical Behavior" policy subsection titled " Reporting Non-Compliance", 3) the " Harassment" section in the Store Handbook, 4) a " Problem Solving Procedure" posting that Brandenburg purportedly attached to a flyer sent to some or all stores under her purview, and 5) a " Respect in the Workplace" module that presents specific workplace situations and provides proper responses to those situations. Autozone claims that it presents each employee with these sexual harassment policies and trains the employees thereon. Plaintiffs principally argue that none of these provisions require termination for failure to report the type of behavior Quiney and Harper witnessed.

II.

Autozone now moves for summary judgment as to Quiney and Harper's claims of racial discrimination and retaliation. The Court will grant summary judgment " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Supreme Court elaborated that the standard for summary judgment is " whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). According to this standard, the moving party bears the initial burden of " informing the district court of the basis of its motion" and " demonstrat[ing] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The moving party may meet this burden by showing an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's case for which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof. Id.

Upon meeting this burden, the nonmoving party may only overcome summary judgment by showing that a genuine dispute exists, using specific facts that " do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Electrical Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The Court will now proceed to consider the substance of Autozone's motion.

III.

Quiney and Harper brought Counts for racial discrimination and retaliation based on a number of discrete claims for adverse employment actions taken by Autozone. As an initial matter, Autozone requests that the Court dismiss three types of these claims as outside the pleadings. The Court agrees that dismissal is appropriate as to the claims based on the issuance of the CARs against ...


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