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Hughes v. Dollar General

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 23, 2015

LAWANDA S. HUGHES, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLLAR GENERAL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LORETTA C. BIGGS, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Lawanda S. Hughes ("Ms. Hughes") brings this action against Dollar General, [1] alleging racial discrimination based on failure to promote and a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (2012), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701. Compl. 8, Doc. 2. Before the Court is Dollar General's unopposed Motion for Summary Judgment.[2] Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Doc. 17. Oral argument on Defendant's motion was heard on March 19, 2015. For the reasons below, the Court will grant summary judgment for Dollar General.

I. BACKGROUND

In summarizing the relevant facts, the Court considers only facts derived from evidence in the record and facts that are deemed admissions in Dollar General's pleadings.[3] The Court does not consider alleged facts set forth in Ms. Hughes' unverified complaint that are unsupported by citations to the record. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Ms. Hughes, the material facts that the Court considered are as follows:

Ms. Hughes is an African-American woman who worked for over two years at Dollar General, Compl. ¶ A, a discount retailer of general merchandise, Def.'s Mem. Ex. 1, Hughes Dep. 22:25-23:2, Doc. 18-1. Several months into her employment, she received a promotion from Sales Associate to Lead Sales Associate. Hughes Dep. 24:10-15, 26:6-8. She continued to pursue promotion opportunities and applied the following year to become Store Manager at a different Dollar General location. Def.'s Mem. Ex. 2, Sorenson Aff. ¶ 9, Doc. 18-2. While the district manager, Stephen Sorenson, felt she was unprepared for the Store Manager position, id. ¶¶ 10-11; Hughes Dep. 69:14-20, he offered her an Assistant Store Manager position instead, Def.'s Mem. Ex. 11, EEOC Charge 1, Doc. 18-11.

Ten days later, Ms. Hughes lost the promotion. Id. at 1. In those ten days, assistant store manager Kyle Wray had asked the store manager to discipline Ms. Hughes. Id .; Def.'s Mem. Ex. 5, Hughes Notes 2, Doc. 18-5. Ms. Hughes responded by filing a complaint against Mr. Wray with Dollar General's Employee Resource Center. Id . Out of humiliation, she also resigned her position as Lead Sales Associate, though she retracted her resignation two days later. Def.'s Mem. Ex. 6, First Resignation Email 1, Doc. 18-6; Def.'s Mem. Ex. 9, Apology Email 5, Doc. 18-9. Mr. Sorenson, the district manager, then informed Ms. Hughes that because of her resignation email, he would no longer promote her to Assistant Store Manager. Hughes Dep. 52:9-12. She then filed a complaint against Mr. Sorenson with Dollar General's Employee Resource Center. EEOC Charge 2; Hughes Notes 3.

In addition to her unsuccessful efforts to become Store Manager or Assistant Store Manager, Ms. Hughes describes several incidents that made her unhappy at Dollar General. These incidents center on the actions and behaviors of Ms. Hughes' three managers: the assistant store manager, Mr. Wray; the store manager, Ms. Artina Tatum; and the district manager, Mr. Sorenson. First, Mr. Wray slammed drawers, forcefully pushed on doors, recommended discipline for Ms. Hughes, referred to her as the employee who could not be on time to work, and made critical comments of her in front of customers and employees. Hughes Notes 2-3; Hughes Dep. 88:13-89:19. Second, Ms. Tatum threatened to write up or fire Ms. Hughes if she did not come to work on certain days that Ms. Hughes had requested off. EEOC Charge 2. The following month, Ms. Tatum stated her intent to fire all but two employees, Hughes Dep. 90:6-8, both of whom Ms. Hughes alleges in her Complaint are white.[4] Finally, Mr. Sorenson referred to Ms. Hughes as "her" while she stood in his presence. Hughes Notes 2. He also repositioned the office cameras, making Ms. Hughes feel as though every move she made was on display for him to see. Hughes Dep. 98:17-99:2; EEOC Charge 2.

Ms. Hughes filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and exhausted her administrative remedies shortly after failing to become Assistant Store Manager. EEOC Charge; EEOC Dismissal & Notice of Rights, Doc. 2-1. Several months later, Ms. Hughes voluntarily resigned her position with Dollar General. Def.'s Mem. Ex. 15, Second Resignation Email 1, Doc. 18-15.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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 burden of demonstrating a lack of genuine dispute of material fact rests on the party seeking summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is "genuine" if the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party. Id. at 248. When the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party "fail[s] to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (noting that a "complete failure of proof" on an essential element of the case renders all other facts immaterial).

To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 250. It must support its assertions by citing to particular parts of the record, as an opposition to summary judgment cannot rest on pleadings alone. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. It must also establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. If the nonmoving party fails to respond to the motion, the court may view the facts in the record as undisputed, but the court may grant the motion only if the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2)-(3).

When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The court must also construe a plaintiff's pro se pleadings liberally, holding them to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see Butler v. Cooper, 554 F.2d 645, 647 (4th Cir. 1977). This liberal standard, however, does not require the court to "discern the unexpressed intent of the plaintiff, " Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 413 n.3 (4th Cir. 2006), or to "conjure up questions never squarely presented, " Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985) ("District judges are not mind readers.").

III. ANALYSIS

Ms. Hughes asserts two claims: (1) racial discrimination based on failure to promote, in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and (2) a hostile work environment, in violation ...


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