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Daniel v. Autozone, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

May 6, 2015

DAWN A. DANIEL, Plaintiff,
AUTOZONE, INC. et al., Defendants.

Cooper, Erving Law Firm SARAH J. BURGER, ESQ., Saratoga Springs, NY, for the Plaintiff.

Bond, Schoeneck Law Firm MICHAEL D. BILLOK, ESQ., Albany, NY, for the Defendants AutoZone, Inc.; AutoZoners, LLC; Todd Bush; Heath H. Savage.

Ricky V. Martin Schaghticoke, NY, Pro Se.


GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Dawn A. Daniel commenced this action against defendants AutoZone, Inc., AutoZoners, LLC, Todd Bush, Heath H. Savage (hereinafter "defendants"), and defendant pro se Ricky V. Martin, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [1] 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the New York State Human Rights Law[2] for discrimination based on race and gender and retaliation. ( See generally Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 23.) Pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment.[3] (Dkt. No. 41.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background[4]

Daniel, an African-American female, began her employment with AutoZoners as a sales associate at an AutoZone store in Bellmore, New York in June 2008. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶¶ 1, 4, 8, Dkt. No. 43.) After requesting a transfer, she began working at the AutoZone store in Troy, New York in July 2010. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.) One of her coworkers throughout her employment at that store was Martin, a Caucasian male. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 17.) Savage, the store manager for the Troy location, was Daniel's direct supervisor on a daily basis, ( id. ¶ 15), and Bush, the district manager for the region which included the Troy store, was responsible for, among other things, personnel decisions, including terminations, ( id. ¶ 16).

According to Daniel, within a short time of transferring to the Troy location and commencing her employment there, several coworkers began subjecting her to a litany of harassing conduct and racially-motivated comments. (Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 2 at 10.) Several AutoZone employees engaged in this harassment, including Martin. (Id. ) Daniel maintains that on numerous occasions she was called names, including "black ass, " "Medusa, " "Nucka, "[5] "duber, " and "idiot, " was told that her "kind isn't welcome here, " was threatened with physical violence, and was told by one coworker that "black people hang at [his] house... in trees." (Id. at 9-10, 12, 14, 27-29.) Daniel claims that she consistently complained about this harassment to Savage, who took no action to stop it. (Id. at 11-12.) According to Daniel, she complained "so many times that [Savage] would say that all you do is complain, " and would tell her to "shut [her] trap and learn how to keep [her] mouth closed sometimes, " ( id. at 12), although Savage denies ever receiving any such complaints, (Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 8 ¶¶ 19, 29-32). Daniel also claims that Bush witnessed the conduct first-hand during his occasional visits to the store, (Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 2 at 12), though Bush denies ever "witness[ing] any AutoZoners employee mistreat Daniel in any way during [his] periodic visits to the Troy AutoZone store, " (Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 6 ¶ 19).

In early 2012, Daniel took a leave of absence from work as a result of a health issue. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 36.) Upon her return to work, Daniel noted that her relationship with Martin deteriorated, as he continued to be rude to her, cursed at her in front of customers and managers, and "started putting his hands on [her] around that time." (Id. ¶¶ 39-40; Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 2 at 30.) On May 2, 2012, while at work, Daniel and Martin had a physical altercation. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 41-42.) The parties dispute exactly what happened during this confrontation. Defendants assert that Daniel "hit[ ] Martin on the back of his head, " because "Martin had made a comment about Daniel's husband that she found offensive." (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) Daniel contends that she merely "tap[ped] him" on the back of the head, (Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 2 at 46), or "brush[ed her] three fingers across the back of his neck, " (Dkt. No. 42, Attach. 2 at 3). At that point, Martin then threw a gas can at Daniel, which hit her in the leg. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 45; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 166, Dkt. No. 46, Attach. 1 at 12-18.)

Daniel did not immediately report the incident to her employer, her stated reason being that she "knew it would lead to termination for both" her and Martin. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 49-50; Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 2 at 48.) The next day, while working with Bush at a different location, Martin reported the incident to Bush, who then relayed notice of the incident to Hope Reitz, a Regional Human Resources Manager. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 51-52; Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 6 ¶¶ 5, 8.) Reitz subsequently began an investigation, during which she interviewed several individuals involved in the incident, including both Martin and Daniel, as well as other employees who may have witnessed the events. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 53-87; Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 6 ¶¶ 9-10; Dkt. No. 42, Attachs. 1-9.) Upon completion of the investigation, Reitz recommended that both Martin and Daniel be terminated for violating AutoZoners' workplace violence policy. (Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 6 ¶ 12; Dkt. No. 42, Attach. 19.) This recommendation was adopted by Bush and his supervisor, Regional Manager David Strange, and in June 2012, both Martin and Daniel were terminated within a day of one another. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 91, 93-94; Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 6 ¶¶ 13-15.)

Daniel subsequently commenced this action with the filing of a complaint on January 31, 2013. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, (Dkt. No. 22), she filed an amended complaint on June 14, 2013, (Am. Compl.), and defendants subsequently filed their now-pending motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 41).

III. Standard of Review

The standard of review pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its decision in Wagner v. Swarts, 827 F.Supp.2d 85, 92 (N.D.N.Y. 2011), ...

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