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Walters v. AutoZone Stores Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division

March 15, 2016

Shakia Walters, Plaintiff,
v.
AutoZone Stores, Inc., Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION

Plaintiff Shakia Walters filed this action against Defendant AutoZone Stores, Inc., alleging that she was subjected to gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17. (ECF No. 1.)

This matter is before the court on AutoZone Stores, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (ECF No. 43.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pretrial handling. On January 6, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court grant AutoZone Stores, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 49.) Walters filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, which are presently before the court. (ECF No. 50.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation and GRANTS AutoZone Stores, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION

The facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 49.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge’s factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein additional facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff that are pertinent to the analysis of her claims.

Walters is a 27-year-old, African-American woman. (ECF No. 44-8 at 1.) On or about January 8, 2011, Walters was hired as a commercial driver at the AutoZone store located at 829 John C. Calhoun Drive in Orangeburg, South Carolina. (ECF Nos. 44-2 at 7:17-21 & 44-8 at 1.) Walters’ job responsibility was to deliver parts ordered on the commercial accounts serviced by the Orangeburg store. (ECF No. 44-2 at 2:10-24.) Walters asserts that she worked full-time hours at the beginning of her employment. (Id. at 7:7-11; ECF No. 46 at 3.) Walters reported to Barbara Shuler, who was a commercial driver and also the acting commercial manager. (ECF No. 44-2 at 5:2-17.) Shuler reported to the store manager, Kyle Pierson, who, in turn, reported to the district manager, David Bradley. (Id. at 8:19-9:5 & 12:23-13:3.)

Within a few weeks after she began making deliveries to A-1 Rodriguez Tire & Auto Service, Walters asserts that she was sexually harassed/assaulted over a period of time by the owner of the store (Albert Rodriguez) and an employee (Patrick). (ECF No. 44-2 at 30-37.) Walters claims that she reported the incidents to Shuler immediately, but Shuler either dismissed the complaints or said that she would report them to the owner’s wife, Letty Rodriguez. (Id. at 30:2-12 & 32:2-13.) Walters eventually reported the incidents of harassment/assault to the assistant store managers (Chris and Rick) and then to Pierson and Bradley. (Id. at 38:9-24 & 39:7-40:25.) When he learned about the incidents, Bradley contacted the regional human resources manager (Zack Harris), who relieved Walters from having to deliver parts to A-1 Rodriguez. (Id. at 44:5-22.) During her discussion with them about the events at A-1 Rodriguez Tire & Auto Service, Walters told Bradley and Harris that Shuler was reducing her hours. (Id. at 45:11-23.)

Within a month or two after her employment began, Walters asserts that her relationship with Shuler began to deteriorate after Bradley and a regional manager allegedly told Shuler that Walters “was a pretty girl” and “sales should go up” because of her. (ECF No. 44-2 at 22:18- 24.) Thereafter, Walters asserts that Shuler expressed her jealousy of Walters by cutting her hours and making disciplinary complaints against her.[1] (Id. at 22:25-25:19.) After the week of May 2, 2011 to May 6, 2011, Walters asserts that she never again worked more than 30 hours. (ECF No. 46 at 2-3.)

On May 10, 2011, Walters met with Harris and Bradley regarding her issues with Shuler. (ECF Nos. 44-2 at 49-53 & 44-8 at 5.) At the conclusion of that meeting, the decision was made to move Walters out of the commercial driving program and into the retail side of the store as a cashier. (ECF No. 44-2 at 53:5-16.) Even though she was no longer a commercial driver, Walters alleges she continued to have problems with Shuler. (Id. at 64:19-21.) On August 10, 2011, Walters gave 2 weeks’ notice of her resignation, effective August 25, 2011, asserting that she was quitting “due to the amount of stress and harassment from employees and customers and also due to my hours being cut.” (ECF No. 44-7 at 1.)

Thereafter, on or about July 13, 2011, Walters filed a Charge of Discrimination (the “Charge”) with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (“SCHAC”). (ECF No. 44-9 at 1.) In the Charge, Walters alleged that she was discriminated against because of her sex and retaliated against in violation of Title VII. (Id.) Walters stated the following particulars in her Charge:

I began my employment with AutoZone on February 7, 2011. I have performed at an above standard level. I was subjected to sexual harassment. Following my report of sexual assault my hours were reduced, I was disciplined with a written warning, and I was transferred to a position with less favorable hours.
Following the sexual assault I was not assigned to deliver to the same location. I was told the disciplinary action was due to an MOR/complaint. I was not provided an explanation for the loss of hours, but told I would be assigned to work the front for a year before I could return to the Driver position.

(Id.) In March of 2012, Walters amended her Charge to include an allegation that “[a]fter reporting sexual harassment, I was regularly sent home from work prior to the completion of my shift . . . [which] is one of the factors that contributed to being constructively discharged on August 29, 2011.” (ECF No. 44-10 at 1.)

After receiving notice of the right to sue from the EEOC as to the Charge, Walters filed an action in this court on September 10, 2013, alleging claims for gender discrimination and sexual harassment (Count 1) and retaliation (Count 2) in violation of Title VII. (ECF No. 1 at 2- 5.) AutoZone Stores, Inc., answered the Complaint on March 3, 2014, denying its allegations. (ECF No. 11.) On June 10, 2015, AutoZone Stores, Inc., moved for summary judgment arguing in part that (1) it was not Walters’ specific employer or an employer within the meaning of Title VII and (2) Walters’ claims were untimely having been filed more than 90 days after receipt of notice of the right to sue. (ECF No. 43 at 1.) Walters filed a Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment on June 29, 2015, to which AutoZone Stores, Inc., filed a Reply Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment on July 8, 2015. (ECF Nos. 46, 48.)

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation on January 6, 2016, recommending that the court grant AutoZone Stores, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 49.) On January 25, 2016, Walters filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 50.) ...


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