United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY
A. Bolden, United States District Judge
August 24, 2016, Tyronda James (“Plaintiff”) sued
RD America, LLC, Jetro Holdings, LLC, and Restaurant Depot,
LLC (“Defendants”), alleging that she was fired
on the basis of race, subjected to a hostile work
environment, and retaliated against for protected activity,
all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. Complaint, dated Aug. 24, 2016
(“Compl.”), ECF No. 1.
March 5, 2018, Defendants moved for summary judgment on all
of Plaintiff's claims. Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment, dated Mar. 5, 2018 (“Mot. Summ. J.”),
ECF No. 37; Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of
Mot. Summ. J., dated Mar. 5, 2018 (“Defs.'
Mem.”), ECF No. 38.
following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
judgment is granted as to Plaintiff's claims of
discriminatory firing and retaliation, but denied as to
Plaintiff's claim of hostile work environment.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
James, an African-American woman, worked as a Front End
Manager at the Restaurant Depot store located at 181 Marsh
Hill Road in Orange, Connecticut beginning in March
2013. Defendants' Statement of Material
Facts (“Defs.' SMF”) ¶¶ 1, 3, ECF
No. 39; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts
(“Pl.'s SMF”), ECF No. 50, ¶ 1; Compl.
are limited liability corporations (“LLCs”)
incorporated in Delaware. Compl. ¶ 2. RD America, LLC
and Restaurant Depot, LLC are registered in Connecticut as
foreign LLCs. Id. Defendants all do business as
Restaurant Depot. See Compl. at 1.
Depot, a national chain of retail stores, sells wholesale
food to restaurants. Deposition of Tyronda James, dated Sept.
14, 2017 (“James Dep.”), annexed as Ex. 1 to
Defs.' Mem, at 20:1-3.
Front End Manager, James supervised a team of cashiers in the
“Front End” department of the Orange store. James
Dep. 19:20-25. Her daily duties included
[c]oming in in the morning and checking the schedule to see
who was supposed to be there, setting up the cash registers
with the tills, making sure that the tills were counted
correctly by the cashiers, and servicing the customers as
they enter, and getting the lines moved and the customers out
the door. Customers' carts have to be counted before they
can exit. So I would either have my supervisors count it -
cashier has to count it, the supervisor have to count it, and
then I have to count it again.
Dep. 21:13-22. At the time of her hire, Ms. James reported to
Timothy Coleman, a branch manager, as well as to more than
one assistant manager. Id. at 22:10-18.
April 23, 2013-her second month on the job-Ms. James was
disciplined for a $110 cash shortage. Defs.' SMF ¶
5; Ex. 2 to Defs.' Mem. (“April 23 Disciplinary
Form”). Ms. James does not dispute that she was
disciplined, but alleges that it was originally a verbal
warning modified to say “written” after she had
signed it. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 5; Affidavit of Tyronda
James, dated Apr. 8, 2018 (“James Aff.”), annexed
as Ex. N to Pl.'s SMF, ECF No. 50-13, ¶ 7. She
further alleges that Monica Franco counted her cash drawer
outside of her presence. James Aff. ¶ 7.
9, 2013, Ms. James allegedly received a Discipline Action for
failure to adhere to a policy for “voiding total lost
receipt.” Defs.' SMF ¶ 6; Ex. 3 to Defs.'
Mem. (“May 9 Disciplinary Form”). Ms. James
denies that she received a written Discipline Action and
asserts instead that “[t]he Disciplinary Action dated
5/9/13 was not signed by my manager and was fabricated before
or for this litigation, ” that “[t]he document
was tampered with and you can clearly see the erasure marks,
” and “[t]hat is not my signature.” James
Aff. ¶ 9.
7, 2013, Defendants allege that Ms. James received a
Disciplinary Action for permitting a cashier to enter an
incorrect weight for store merchandise, which resulted in a
$127.27 loss for the store. Defs.' SMF ¶ 7; Ex. 4 to
Defs.' Mem. (“June 7 Disciplinary Form”). Ms.
James denies receiving this Disciplinary Action. Pl.'s
SMF ¶ 7. She states:
The Disciplinary Action dated 6/7/13 was an incident that
occurred wherein the weight on tag of the merchandise was in
error or was illegible. It was not a written warning, it was
a verbal warning, and the document was tampered with and not
signed by my manager, Timothy Coleman. The second signature
is not clear and is not someone who can discipline me. No.
white manager ever gets written up for this type of error.
James Aff. ¶ 10.
17, 2013, Defendants allege that Ms. James received a
Disciplinary Action for failing to complete a task in a
reasonable amount of time. Defs.' SMF ¶ 8; Ex. 5 to
Defs.' Mem. (“June 17 Disciplinary Form”).
Ms. James denies receiving this Disciplinary Action as well.
Pl.'s SMF ¶ 8. She states that “[t]he
Disciplinary Action dated 6/17/13 was fabricated before or
for this litigation, ” that “wrapping pallets is
not in [her] job function, ” and that “Timothy
Coleman did not sign it.” James Aff. ¶ 11.
March 7, 2014, Defendants allege that Ms. James received a
Disciplinary Action for poor work quality, and a
“coaching report” indicating that she had failed
to ensure that the registers worked properly. Defs.' SMF
¶ 9; Ex. 6 to Defs.' Mem. (“March 7
Disciplinary Form”). Ms. James objects, Pl.'s SMF
¶ 9, and claims that “[t]he Disciplinary Action
dated 3/7/14 was fabricated before or for this litigation,
” and “is not signed by [Ms. James] or [her]
manager Timothy Coleman.” James Aff. ¶ 12.
March 10, 2014, Defendants allege that Ms. James received a
Disciplinary Action again for poor work quality, which this
time included a “coaching report” indicating that
she had failed to keep the front end clean. Defs.' SMF
¶ 10; Ex. 7 to Defs.' Mem. (“March 10
Disciplinary Form”). Ms. James objects, Pl.'s SMF
¶ 10, and again claims that “[t]he Disciplinary
Action dated 3/10/14 was fabricated before or for this
litigation” and “is not signed by [Ms. James] or
[her] manager Timothy Coleman.” James Aff. ¶ 13.
March 20, 2014, Ms. James wrote a letter to Timothy Coleman
and the “Jetro Cash and Carry Corporate Office.”
Defs.' SMF ¶ 15; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 15; Ex. 13 to
Defs.' Mem.; Ex. G to Pl.'s SMF (“March 20,
2014 Letter”). She complained about being disrespected
by upper management, and being subjected to unbearable
working conditions at Restaurant Depot because she was an
African-American woman. Id. The letter states:
On several occasion [sic] members of upper management have
under-minded [sic] and disrespected me in front of my
associates. This kind of behavior has been brought to the
attention of Tim on several occasions. Awilda went behind my
back and ask [sic] a new cashier (Reggie) who had only been
working here for two days, to assist them in spying on the
staff members of the front-end. The cashier was called on his
personal cell phone by Inventory Manager and ask [sic] to
assist in spying on all the associates on the front-end who
might be stealing. In addition on March 20, 2014 Inventory
Manager Awilda ask [sic] supervisor Yvonne to train the new
upcoming supervisor, · Debra. Awilda ask [sic] this
question on the floor in front of the Front-End manger
Tyronda James, When I responded I had already be working with
her. She ignored me and told Yvonne someone needs to train
her with some knowledge and direct Yvonne to tell Leesha to
train her. The working conditions at this company are
becoming unbearable, I feel being a afraican-American [sic]
female has a lot to do with it. I feel the upper management
feels a blantant [sic] disrespect and disregard for
Afraican-American [sic] authority.
20, 2014 Letter. In her affidavit, Ms. James alleges
that, during the course of her employment, she
“complained to Timothy Coleman about harassment,
discrimination and retaliation.” James Aff. ¶ 5.
She allegedly did this not only in the March 20, 2014 letter,
but also in letters dated April 29 and June 27, “and at
least 4 other times in writing and daily complaints
James's affidavit alleges that Inventory Manager Awilda
Pillard “used the word ‘my-n--ga' daily,
” which she found offensive. James Aff. ¶ 19. Her
affidavit also alleges that HR Manager Monica Franco: (1)
called her “stupid” in front of “staff and
subordinates”; (2) “shoved papers into my stomach
while I was on the phone with a customer, ” “in
front of staff and my subordinates”; and (3) blocked
her from assisting an injured white female cashier, telling
Ms. James not to come near her. Id. ¶¶
affidavit also alleges that both Ms. Pillard and Ms. Franco
“undermined my authority as a manager by changing my
instructions to my subordinates, humiliating and belittling
me in front of my coworkers and subordinates, refusing to
help my department when they were called, telling a coworker
‘glad that black bitch is gone,' telling a new
employee to spy on me to see if I am stealing (increased
scrutiny other managers did not have), [and] speaking to me
in a disrespectful manner in front of my employees and other
staff.” Id. ¶ 20.
6, 2014, Defendants allege that Ms. James received a
Disciplinary Action for failing to cash out her drawer before
leaving work for the previous day, despite allegedly having
signed a notice on April 10, 2014 that failure to do so would
result in her being written up. Defs.' SMF ¶ 11; Ex.
8 to Defs.' Mem. (“May 6 Disciplinary Form”).
Ms. James objects, Pl.'s SMF ¶ 11, and, once again,
claims that “[t]he Disciplinary Action dated
5/5/14 is not my signature, the dates look
tampered with, and I have never seen the document
before.” James Aff. ¶ 14.
around May 17, 2014, Jose Pena replaced Timothy Coleman as
the Store Manager for the Orange store. Deposition of Jose
Pena, dated June 14, 2018 (“Pena Dep.”), annexed
to Plaintiff's Supplemental Objection to Mot. Summ. J.,
ECF No. 58-1, at 12:9-19.
11, 2014, Defendants allege that Ms. James received a
Disciplinary Action after a conversation about her personal
shopping at Restaurant Depot, and “[t]he conversation
included ensuring that anyone shopping for James on her
account were signatories of her account.” Defs.'
SMF ¶ 12; Ex. 9 to Defs.' Mem. (“June 11
Disciplinary Form”). The Disciplinary Action states:
As a Front End Manager with a RD account there is a concern
over a conflict of interest when purchasing merchandise
through the company. While we may appreciate your business
you are required to ensure that there is absolutely [no]
impropriety. Therefore, you are expected to follow the rules
and guidelines as a customer would. Starting with ensuring
those who you employ to shop under your numbers are required
to become signatory on the account, including having the
proper rights to use your credit cards and checks. Please be
reminded you can not use company time to make purchases or
payments. Returns, of merchandise will be done properly
without exception. If there is an issue of credits,
exchanges, etc. you are to bring those issues directly to my
attention and I will make the final decisions, In the event
of my absence, I will assign the appropriate party who may
required to provide a written statement of the transaction
you have requested.
CORRECTIVE ACTION PLAN:
Tyronda is required to have the proper signed paperwork for
his [sic] employee (s) to shop and any returns must be
conducted as stated above.
Disciplinary Form. Mr. Pena testified that he raised the
issue because Ms. James-who was responsible for verifying and
authorizing customer purchases before cashiers could complete
the transaction and allow them to exit the store-should not
be playing this role with respect to any transactions being
made by friends or associates in relation to her business:
So we had a conversation based on the way she was handling
her account, meaning you're not to supposed you know,
like let's say you have a cashier and a sister or someone
come in, that cashier [sic] not supposed to scan that person
going through because it's kind of like a conflict of
interest . . . . Somebody else should check out or a
supervisor have a mother or sister there, that supervisor
should not be able to, you know, check on the receipt of that
person or check that person out because it would be a
conflict of interest . . . .
I never questioned her shopping in the store. If she's
shopping, she shouldn't do it on store time but she can
shop in the store. My conversation with her was strictly
based on the people that shopped for her, she's not to
oversee those transactions . . . .
Pena Dep. at 61:15-62:3, 79:5-9.
James objects to Defendants' characterization of the June
11, 2014 incident. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 12. She claims that
while she signed the Disciplinary Action,
the information is false. I was not in violation of a company
policy. They created a policy just for me. Chez Darden told
Jose Pena to take it out of my file because I was being
singled out. Chez Darden and Jose Pena agreed that it would
be taken out of my file and they never did take it out.
Statements were added after I signed it because the typed
information was not in there when I signed. The milk receipt
transaction in question was handled by Alex Lowery not me.
James Aff. ¶ 15.
14, 2014, a day when Mr. Pena was not in the store,
Defendants assert that Ms. James twice used her work
identification to authorize shopping done on her behalf,
contradicting the explicit instructions Defendants claim Mr.
Pena gave her. Defs.' SMF ¶ 13; Ex. 10 to Defs.'
Mem. (“June 19 Disciplinary Form”); Ex. 11 to
Defs.' Mem. (“Personnel Action Form”). The
Disciplinary Action issued several days later states that,
“[o]n 6/14, Tyronda shopped twice which was Jose's
day off. Also, she used her manager ID on the account which
should not be happening at all.” June 19 Disciplinary
James objects to this account of the day's events.
Pl.'s SMF ¶ 13. She asserts that she “never
tampered with [her] account” and was “setup to be
forced to handle [her] account and keep the line moving
because the Manager Joey refused to assist with the
transaction.” James Aff. ¶ 16.
19, 2014, Defendants allege that Ms. James “was going
to be given a final warning regarding her personal shopping
at Restaurant Depot but as a result of her behavior during
the meeting to address her warning, she was
terminated.” Defs.' SMF ¶ 14; June 19
Disciplinary Form; Personnel Action Form. Shez Darden, a
regional HR representative for ...