United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
W. EGINTON, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Faith Carter brings a four count complaint against her former
employer, the AutoZoners, LLC. (“AutoZone”),
alleging wrongful discharge, demotion, constructive discharge
and retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2 et
seq., and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act
(“CFEPA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. §§46a-60 et
seq. on the basis of her gender, female.
AutoZone moves for summary judgment on all counts of the
reasons that follow, defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. #21] is
motion for summary judgment may be granted only where there
are no issues of material fact in dispute and the moving
party is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); In re Dana Corp., 574 F.3d 129, 151
(2d Cir. 2009). The moving party may satisfy his burden
“by showing- that is pointing out to the district
court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the
nonmoving party's case.” PepsiCo, Inc. v.
Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per
curiam)(internal quotation citations and marks omitted).
“[T]he party opposing summary judgment may not merely
rest on the allegations or denials of his pleading; rather
his response, by affidavits or otherwise as provided in the
Rule, must set forth ‘specific facts' demonstrating
that there is ‘a genuine issue for trial.'”
Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir.
2009)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). In order to defeat the
motion for summary judgment, she must present such evidence
as would allow a jury to find in her favor. Graham v.
Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000). Merely
verifying the conclusory allegations of the complaint in an
affidavit, however, is insufficient to oppose a motion for
summary judgment. Zigmund v. Foster, 106 F.Supp.2d
352, 356 (D. Conn. 2000)(citing cases).
reviewing the record, the court resolves all ambiguities and
draws all permissible factual inferences in favor of the
party against whom summary judgment is sought. Loeffler
v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp., 582 F.3d 268, 274 (2d Cir.
2009). If there is any evidence in the record on a material
issue from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in
favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is
inappropriate. Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old
Dominion Freight Line Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir.
2004). However, the existence of a mere
“scintilla” of evidence supporting the
plaintiff's position is insufficient to defeat a motion
for summary judgment. Havey v. Homebound Mortgage,
Inc., 547 F.3d 158, 163 (2d Cir. 2008). And because a
court is foreclosed from “mak[ing] credibility
determinations or weigh[ing] the evidence” at the
summary judgment stage, Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing
Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000), it must
“disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party
that the jury is not required to believe.” Id.
at 151. Thus, in “a discrimination case where intent
and state of mind are in dispute, summary judgment is
ordinarily inappropriate, ” Carlton v. Mystic
Transp. Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000), provided
that the nonmovant has done more than “simply show that
there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts.” Plotzker v. Kips Bay Anesthesia, P.C.,
745 Fed.Appx. 436, 437 (2d Cir. 2018) (summary order)
(quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). “A trial court
should exercise caution when granting summary judgment to an
employer where, as here, its intent is a genuine factual
issue.” Carlton, 202 F.3d at 134.
following facts are taken from the parties' statements of
material facts not in dispute, see Def's Local Rule
56(a)(1) Stat. [doc. #21-2]; Pl's Local Rule 56(a)(2)
Stat. [doc. #24-2]; and from exhibits submitted in connection
with the Motion for Summary Judgment. Unless otherwise
indicated, these facts are not contested. Additional facts
will be introduced as necessary in the Court's analysis
of plaintiff's claims.
Faith Carter was hired by AutoZone in 2001, became a Store
Manager in 2008, and remained in that position until February
2017. [Doc. 24-1, Pl. 56(a)(2) Stat. ¶1]. Beginning in
2013, until she resigned her employment in February 2017,
plaintiff was the Store Manager at AutoZone's East
Hartford location. Id. ¶8.
latter part of 2016, plaintiff reported to District Manager,
Jeffrey Kontnick. Id. ¶9. Plaintiff had no
problems with Mr. Kontnick and knew she could reach out to
him with any operational or personnel issues. Id.
¶10. Kontnick reported to Regional Manager Robert
Regional Human Resources Manager for the Hartford region was
Nuno Antunes. Plaintiff testified that Antunes treated her
respectfully and never did anything to make her question his
integrity over the years that she had interactions with him.
Id. ¶¶12-13. The Divisional Human Resource
Manager was Marie Saball. [Doc. 21, Ex. 3, Saball Decl.
read and reviewed the Employee Handbook and throughout her
employment reviewed the Handbook each time it was updated.
[Pl. 56(a)(2) Stat. ¶¶2-4]. Plaintiff knew that
AutoZone prohibited gender discrimination and harassment and
retaliation. Id. ¶5. Employees are advised that
if they experience or receive a report of any discrimination
or harassment, the “should complain immediately...to
the HR manager. As an alternative, AutoZoners...may submit a
written complaint to AutoZoner Relations. Plaintiff was also
informed that employees could be terminated for “acts
or conduct which may be detrimental to an AutoZoner”
and/or for “abusive language.” Id.
East Hartford Store Manager, plaintiff was the highest
ranking employee in the store. Id. ¶18. She
knew that customer service was important to AutoZone and that
it was part of her job to train employees on how to provide
good customer service. Id. ¶16. She knew that
customer complaints of any kind must be elevated to
corporate. Id. ¶17. As Store Manager, plaintiff
was expected to uphold the values of the company as well as
ensure all of the policies and procedures contained in the
handbook were enforced. Id. ¶19. Plaintiff was
responsible for complying with the company's policies and
procedures and for making sure all the employees in her store
did so as well. Id. ¶20. Plaintiff was
responsible for training employees on the company's
policies and ensuring they followed the policies.
Id. ¶21. Plaintiff knew if she failed to follow
the company's policies, she could be disciplined, up to
and including termination. Id. ¶22.
addition to training employees, plaintiff knew it was her job
to hire and retain employees; to ensure employees worked in a
safe environment; to be an effective leader with excellent
communication skills; to foster a positive environment for
employees; to ensure all policies and procedures were
followed; and to provide performance counseling and
discipline to employees when necessary. Id.
¶23. As Store Manager, plaintiff issued Corrective
Action Reviews to employees in the store, and her District
Manager approved everyone she submitted for his or her
review. Id. ¶24. Plaintiff knew that she must
report when an employee made a derogatory comment about a
customer and she could be disciplined if she failed to do so.
Id. ¶25. Plaintiff knew that if two employees
discussed sexual acts with women she would need to address
that by issuing Corrective Action Reviews because such
conduct would not be appropriate. Id. ¶26. She
knew that all AutoZone managers, supervisors, and employees
were expected to treat people with respect and, if they
failed to do so, they could be disciplined up to and
including termination of employment. Id. ¶27.
Plaintiff was aware that as the Store Manager of the East
Hartford store, she was held to a high standard of conduct in
how she behaved in the store and that she needed to model
good behavior for the employees to follow. Id.
admitted that she received counseling regarding her behavior
at work. Id. ¶29.
January 2016, Regional Human Resources Manager Nuno Antunes
spoke to plaintiff as a result of an employee complaint
regarding the way plaintiff communicated with employees.
Id. ¶30. Antunes also counseled plaintiff
regarding the importance of holding employees accountable for
their conduct. Id. ¶31.
Fall 2016, plaintiff received a performance review with an
overall rating of below average. Id. ¶32. She
received a rating of “expectations not consistently
met” in customer satisfaction. Id. ¶33.
Plaintiff testified that she did not think her 2016
performance review was based on her gender. Id.
Store Manager, plaintiff was responsible for writing
evaluations for the employees in her store. Id.
¶35. Employees' pay raises were linked to their
evaluations. Id. ¶36. In September or October
2016, after receiving a performance evaluation from
plaintiff, one of her male subordinate employees, DaJavon
White-Hill, a Parts Sales Manager, complained to plaintiff
about his pay raise and expressed his belief that his raise
should have been higher. Id. ¶37. Before
White-Hall's complaint about his raise to her, plaintiff
had worked with him “fine” for the past year or
so that he was assigned to the East Hartford store under her
supervision. Id. ¶38. Plaintiff knew White-Hall
before he was transferred to the East Hartford store from
doing inventories with him at other AutoZone stores. She had
no problem with him during these inventories. Id.
¶39. December 23, 2016
December 23, 2016, at approximately 5:20 PM during one of the
admittedly busiest times in the store, plaintiff and
White-Hall had a verbal exchange in front of customers.
claims that the incident began when a customer told her that
she smelled nice that day and asked whether she was going
out. Id. ¶42. She testified that she told the
customer, “No, I don't party. I'm a
Christian.” Id. ¶43. Plaintiff identifies
as a Christian. Id. ¶44. Plaintiff claims that
after hearing plaintiff's remark, White-Hall said
“she's a fake Christian.” Id.
¶45. Plaintiff responded to White-Hall by saying
“you need to stay out of my personal life because I
never slept with a pastor man and I know who my father
is.” Id. ¶46. Plaintiff admits that her
retort was not respectful and was not appropriate.
Id. ¶47. Plaintiff testified that in response
to her retort, White-Hall called her a “whore”
and a “bitch” and said to “suck his
dick” and said he would hit her in the face.
Id. ¶48. Plaintiff stated that White-Hall then
followed her as she walked to the back of the store and
threatened to harm her. Id. ¶49. Plaintiff then
repeated “your mama” to White-Hall. Id.
¶50. She knew that “your mama” is
disrespectful and a direct insult to the person and the
person's mother. Id. ¶51. Plaintiff knew
that two wrongs do not make a right. Id. ¶52.
following the interaction, White-Hall and Carter separately
contacted District Manager Kontnick to make a report. [Pl.
56(a)(2) ¶¶53-54]. Kontnick instructed Carter to
leave the store immediately as her shift was nearly over.
[Pl. 56(a)(2) ¶55]. Two minutes into her drive home,
Kontnick called plaintiff and informed her that she should
return to the store and that he had suspended White-Hall.
[Pl. 56(a)(2) ¶56].
was transferred to another AutoZone store to allow time for
the company to conduct an investigation. Id.
¶57. Plaintiff never had to work with White-hall after
December 23, 2015. Id. ¶58.
and Employment Action
Human Resources Manager Nuno Antunes investigated the
complaints brought by plaintiff and White-Hall. [Pl. 56(a)(2)
¶59]. He interviewed plaintiff on January 5 and 13,
2017; Odell Crawford on January 12, 2017; Toriano Powell on
January 13, 2017; and White-Hall on January 24, 2017. [Nunes
Aff. ¶¶3-14; Ex. A-D].
January 5, 2017, Nunes interviewed Carter regarding the
December 23, 2016, incident with White-Hall. [Pl. 56(a)(2)
¶61-73; Doc. #21, Carter Interview Stat. 1/5/17]. Carter
told Nunes that:
• White-Hall “told me that I am a bitch, I am a
whore, and I must go suck his dick and he followed me home
and he knew where I live and that he was going to kill me and
my son. He continuously told me to shut the fuck up and gave
me the finger.” Id.
• White-Hall “said I was messing with his
• The incident took place “[b]y the front of the
store near pod #2.” Two to three customers were in the
store at the time of the incident. Id.
• Odell Crawford, part-time sales associate, was a
witness to the incident. Id.
• She told White-Hall that she “never slept with a
pastor man and [she] knew who her father is.” “I
meant nothing towards him it was not directly to him, it was
meant to say God is the judge of me. It was when he called me
a fake Christian. Id.
• She contacted the police immediately following the
incident to report that White-Hall threatened to go to her
house and kill her and her son. Id.
• The police told White-Hall to leave the premises.
• She immediately contacted her District Manager Jeffrey
Kontnick following the incident. Kontnick immediately
transferred White-Hall to the Manchester AutoZone store.
• Two and a half to three months before the December 23
incident, Carter heard White-Hall having a discussion with
another AutoZone employee Tito Powell about a women and
“[h]ow many times they had sex and how she kept coming
back for more.” Carter spoke to White-Hall and told him
“not to discuss his personal business in the
store.” She did not report to anyone in the company or
issue a Corrective Action or create a note or record of her
discussion with ...