United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
MATHLON K. PULLIAM, Plaintiff,
LOWE'S COMPANIES, INC., Defendant.
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56
regarding Plaintiff's claims of race discrimination in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and wrongful termination
in violation of public policy under N.C. Gen. Stat. §
143-422.2. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
an African-American male, holds both a master of science in
chemical engineering and a master of business administration.
Defendant Lowe's Companies, Inc.
(“Lowe's”) is a multinational home
improvement company based in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Lowe's Vice President
Doug Jennings (“Jennings”) treated him
differently from his white colleagues by making an
inappropriate remark and interfering with his ability to hire
and manage his team. Conversely, Lowe's alleges
Plaintiff's cited events were not motivated by
discriminatory animus, and Lowe's ultimately terminated
Plaintiff because he failed to demonstrate meaningful
progress on the key initiative within Lowe's that he was
hired to complete. Most significant to this Court, however,
is the fact Plaintiff worked at Lowe's for less than
seven months, and he was terminated by the same person who
interviewed and hired him.
2013, Lowe's reorganized and expanded a portion of its
Finance department to create the Enterprise Measure and
Evaluate Group (“Measure & Evaluate”). The
new group focused on providing financial analyses and big
data analytics. In early 2014, Jennings, who ran Measure
& Evaluate, began recruiting for a Measure & Evaluate
Director position. Jennings had previously filled two
director positions by incumbent members of the former Finance
department. (Jennings Decl. at 3-4). For the third director
position, which was to be focused on Lowe's
enterprise-wide activities, Jennings looked to external
candidates. (Id. at 4). Jennings interviewed several
candidates by phone for the director position, including
Plaintiff, and Plaintiff was the only candidate invited for
an in-person interview. (Id. at 4-5). After
completing Defendant's formal interview process, Jennings
hired Plaintiff to work at Defendant's corporate
headquarters. While others were involved in the interview
process, Jennings testified he had the final authority over
whether or not to hire Plaintiff. (Jennings Dep. at 49).
Plaintiff has neither presented nor forecast any evidence to
contradict that testimony.
Director of Measure & Evaluate, Plaintiff's position
involved developing and implementing financial strategy. More
specifically, Plaintiff's job focused on Lowe's
enterprise-wide activities. (Jennings Decl. at 3). Of these
responsibilities, the parties agree Plaintiff's most
critical task was developing a project called Business Case
Best Practices (the “Project”), which was a
Measure & Evaluate team goal. (Pulliam Dep. at 67;
Jennings Dep. at 141). Moreover, Jennings believed
Plaintiff's previous experience working in portfolio
analytics, mergers and acquisitions, and finance at several
large companies, such as Polypore International and Delhaize
America, would provide Plaintiff with highly relevant
experience he could leverage into completing the Project.
(Jennings Decl. at 5).
Project was initially expected to be completed by September
2014, although Jennings testified that in July or August of
2014 there were clear signs Plaintiff was significantly
behind schedule. (Jennings Dep. at 123). Jennings noted he
was concerned because he “wasn't seeing any
traction on any . . . tangible outcomes or any progress
towards any outcome.” (Id.) Jennings
complained that when asked about the Project, Plaintiff
discussed the Project on a high-level perspective but did not
demonstrate he was working through the details to deliver
tangible results. (Jennings Decl. at 9). Jennings testified
he then reached out to his human resources contact, an
African-American woman named Kim Reynolds
(“Reynolds”), to seek advice on managing
Plaintiff's employment. (Jennings Dep. at 149). Jennings
testified he subsequently met with Plaintiff in August 2014
to discuss concerns and explain Defendant's expectations
for the Project. (Id. at 123). Plaintiff
acknowledged that Jennings informed him during the meeting
that Plaintiff's approach was too “hands off,
” and Plaintiff needed to be more directly involved in
his projects. (Pulliam Dep. 98-99).
meanwhile, claims one of the issues causing the Project delay
included a lack of sponsorship. Sponsors are high-level
executives who advocate for a project internally and provide
project oversight and guidance. While sponsorship is helpful
for ensuring a project has the necessary resources needed for
completion and managing resistance within the corporation,
sponsors are not responsible for ultimately developing a
project. (Jones Decl. at 3). Further, Plaintiff's alleged
sponsorship challenges lack evidentiary support, as Plaintiff
acknowledged he ultimately had two sponsors, Jay Rabello and
Mike Jones, sponsoring and supporting the Project. (Pulliam
Dep. at 71-72).
also claims Jennings treated him differently from the white
employees. Plaintiff points to evidence that Jennings stated
during a business meeting “nobody gives a damn who you
know at Ebony, ” apparently referring to Ebony
magazine, a magazine marketed to African-Americans. (Pulliam
Dep. at 64). Plaintiff further complained that Jennings
frequently went to lunch with white colleagues in his
department, but Jennings never extended an invitation to
Plaintiff. (Pulliam Decl. at 4). Lastly, Plaintiff argues
Jennings once prevented Plaintiff from hiring his former
colleague, Trae Fletcher, to join Plaintiff's team and
instead let another director hire Fletcher who had a more
“urgent need.” (Pulliam Dep. at 51).
noted that by mid-October, he had not received any templates,
forms, or tools for the Project, and when asked for more
information, Plaintiff gave Jennings a “one-page
schematic” copied from what another employee had
previously written on a whiteboard. (Jennings Decl. at
10-11). Moreover, on October 24, 2014-well into Q4-Plaintiff
sent Jennings an email informing him the Project is
“still an initiative, ” despite the original
timeline mandating the Project be established by Q3.
(Jennings Dep. Ex. 20). After receiving similar negative
feedback regarding Plaintiff from other vice presidents and
directors who had worked with him, and after consultation
with Reynolds, Jennings made the decision to terminate
November 3, 2014, Jennings terminated Plaintiff's
employment for failing to meet expectations. (Pulliam Dep. at
39; Jennings Dep. at 227). Jennings testified that although
he consulted with Reynolds first, it was Jennings'
decision to terminate Plaintiff. (Jennings Decl. at 12).
Plaintiff's employment had lasted less than seven months,
from April 7 to November 3, 2014. Plaintiff's position
was never filled after his termination, and the position was
ultimately removed from Defendant's management structure.
initiated this action by filing a complaint on November 22,
2017, in the Superior Court of North Carolina at Mecklenburg
County, and Defendant removed the case to this Court on
January 4, 2018. Defendant moved for summary judgment on
October 5, 2018. (Doc. No. 13). A hearing was held to resolve
the summary judgment motion on December 5, 2018, at which all
parties were represented by counsel, and the Court issued an
oral order granting Defendant's motion and advised the
parties of this forthcoming Order.