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RHODES v. MURRAY'S DISCOUNT AUTO STORES

March 10, 2003

JOHN A. RHODES, SR. PLAINTIFF,
v.
MURRAY'S DISCOUNT AUTO STORES DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ronald A. Guzman, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before this Court is defendant Murray's Discount Auto Stores' ("defendant" or "Murray's") motion for summary judgment against plaintiff John Rhodes' ("plaintiff' or "Rhodes") complaint brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et. seq. ("Title VII"), alleging discrimination based on his religion. For the following reasons, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Murray's is a retail discount auto store chain, headquartered in Belleville, Michigan. (Def. Facts ¶ 1) Murray's has 92 locations in the Midwest, and 32 locations in the Chicago metropolitan area. (Id. ¶ 2) The stores are open seven days a week, and are open from 9:00 a.m. until 6:OO p.m. on Sundays. The chain experiences its highest sales volume on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. (Id. ¶ 3) Each store is staffed with a Store Manager, an Assistant Store Manager, and a Sales Manager, all of whom are "key carrying" employees, responsible for opening and closing the store, monitoring daily operations, supervising staff, ensuring quality customer service, scheduling and monitoring proper staffing, directing store personnel in any emergencies, setting and disabling the store's alarm system, and opening and closing the store's safe. (Id. ¶ 9) Each store's management team reports to a District Manager, who in turn reports to a Regional Manager. (Id. ¶¶ 4-6) Key carrying managers normally arrive an hour before the store opens, and also often stay later than other employees in order to prepare for the next day's business. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11)

Murray's has an established policy that all key carrying managers must be available to work "any time, without restrictions." (Id. ¶ 13) Because Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday are Murray's busiest days, it is Murray's policy that either the Store Manager or Assistant Store Manager open or close on these days. (Id. ¶ 15) Managers are also required to cover for one another during vacations and other necessary absences, and must work increased hours or longer shifts if necessary in order to do so. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17) If either the Assistant Manager or Store Manager will not work on Sundays, the other must work alone each Sunday from 8:00 a.m. until approximately 7:00 p.m. (Id. ¶ 17)

Murray's hired the plaintiff on April 10, 1995 as a Parts Clerk as part of the Hot Shots training program, at the Evergreen/Grand River store in Detroit, Michigan. (Id. ¶ 18) On his employment application, the plaintiff indicated that he was available to work from 9:00 am. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. (Id. ¶ 19) Plaintiff's initial responsibilities included waiting on customers, looking up various car applications, operating the cash register, and stocking. (Id. 21) In 1995, the Vice President of Operations for Murray's, Jerry Rosenfeld, selected the plaintiff for Murray's Management Training Program. (Id. ¶ 22) During the summer of 1995, the plaintiff received training in the "Fast Trackers Program" at Murray's corporate headquarters, where he received training in money handling, loss prevention, identifying potential thefts, security measures, and inventory. (Id. ¶ 24) In February 1996, the plaintiff was relocated to the Chicago area as a Management Trainee, and was assigned to assist in establishing a new Murray's store on 92nd and Western in Chicago. (Id. ¶ 25) In the spring of 1996, the plaintiff was transferred to the Berwyn store to set up for its initial opening. (Id. ¶ 26) Several months later, the plaintiff was transferred to Murray's Broadway and Foster store to assist in setting up the store for its opening. (Id. ¶ 27) Once that store opened, the plaintiff served as the Assistant Store Manager for a few months, until he was assigned to the position of Sales Manager (for the same amount of pay) for the recently opened North Avenue and Cicero store. (Id. ¶¶ 28-30)

In late 1996 (or early 1997), the plaintiff was transferred to the Merrionette Park store to work as a Sales Manager and to assist in preparing the store for its initial opening. (Id. ¶ 32) Because the plaintiff did not work on Sundays, the Merionette Park Store Manager, Chris Cygan, or the Assistant Store Manager, C. Bruce Jones, had to work every Sunday. (Id. ¶ 33) As of February 1997, the plaintiff had worked fewer than five Sundays since transferring to Illinois in February of 1996 (Id. ¶ 33), and in February 1997, he informed Murray's that he could no longer work on any Sundays due to his religious conviction and his new role as an apostolic pastor. (Id. ¶ 34). Plaintiff explained to Murray's that his religion does not prohibit him from working on Sundays, but that he chooses not to work on Sundays as his way of honoring God. (Id. ¶ 35) Murray's determined that the plaintiff could not continue to work as a Sales Manager because he was not available to work anytime, as required with its policy for managers. (Id. ¶ 36) Murray's offered the plaintiff the opportunity to either remain in his position if he worked Sundays, or to be transferred to a non-key carrying position. (Id.) The plaintiff refused to work Sundays, so Murray's transferred him to the Harvey Store to a Counter Manager position beginning on March 17, 1997, and then to a Parts Manager position beginning on June 2, 1997. (Id. ¶ 37) These positions were non-key carrying positions, but Murray's maintained the plaintiffs Manager salary despite his reduced responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 37) In July of 1997, a Sales Manager position became available in the Harvey Store, and Murray's decided to promote the plaintiff to this position and accommodate his need for Sundays off. (Id. ¶ 38)

In late 1997, Murray's assigned plaintiff to be a Sales Manager of the Glen Ellyn store, which was the closest Murray's location to the plaintiff's home at the time, and where he remained for more than a year. (Id. ¶ 39) From late 1997 until 2002, the plaintiff was transferred several times to four different Chicago area stores, maintaining his position at Sales Manager at each location. (Id. ¶¶ 40-44) Plaintiff received a pay raise in 1997, increasing his salary from $500 to $550 per week, which was the top of the pay scale for Sales Managers. (Id. ¶ 45) In May 2002, the plaintiff received a pay raise from $550 per week to $575 per week. (Id. ¶ 47)

Plaintiff alleges that he spoke with his District Manager, Mike Piercynski, on several occasions asking for promotion opportunities, and Piercynski told the plaintiff that his inability to work Sundays would hinder his ability to be promoted. (Id. ¶¶ 49-50, 53) Plaintiff also his District Managers about a pay raise, and they told him that he was already one of the highest paid Sales Managers and was at the top of the pay scale. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53) Plaintiff alleges that another of Murray's employee, Luis Caraballo, was promoted despite the fact that his religion prohibited him from working Friday night through Saturday or Sunday. (Id. ¶ 54) Plaintiff also compared himself to other Murray's employees, such as Chris McCoy, Ed Reyes and Jeff Brown, who were managers who rarely worked on Sundays. However, as defendant points out, these employees were available to work on Sundays. (Id. ¶ 58-62)

Plaintiff also alleges that Murray's harassed and retaliated against him due to his refusal to work on Sundays. (Id. ¶¶ 63-84) Plaintiff believed that his schedule was intentionally changed on July 25, 2001 to prevent him from attending a mandatory meeting for Sales Managers at the 111th and Michigan store, which was scheduled for 7:00 a.m. to 4:00-5:00 p.m. (and the plaintiff was scheduled to work from 12:00 p.m. until close). (Id. ¶¶ 66-67) Following this meeting, the Regional Sales Manager inspected the Plaintiff's store, and the District Manager informed the plaintiff that he was dissatisfied with the appearance with the store and the way it was being run. (Id. ¶¶ 70, 72) Based on this evaluation, the plaintiff and all other managers of the store were issued a written warning by the District Manager, and were placed on performance objective. (Id. ¶¶ 69-71) All employees of the store were required to forfeit their days off in order to bring the store up to speed. (Id. ¶ 73) The plaintiff also believed that the Assistant Store Manager, Malkia Cooper, criticized him and argued with him. (Id. ¶ 75) Cooper reported her criticisms to the Store Manager and District Manager, but no action was taken. (Id. ¶ 76)

Plaintiff also believed that his reassignment to Oak Park was retaliatory because it was further away from his home. (Id. ¶ 78) In 2000, he requested a stipend for increased travel expenses and was denied by District Manager Larry Granger. (Id. ¶ 85) Plaintiff does not know of any other Murray's employee that has received the type of travel stipend that he requested. (Id. ¶ 89)

Plaintiff never told anyone that he filed a charge of discrimination against Murray, and he does not know whether the managers at his store (Cooper, Brown, and Granger) knew of the discrimination charge. (Id. ¶¶ 81-82) Plaintiff never complained to Murray's human resources about the allegedly discriminatory conduct. (Id. ¶ 83) Murray's was served with plaintiff's charge at its corporate headquarters in Belleville, Michigan, and Jeff Foutz was in charge of responding and making sure that no local or district managers were informed of the charge. (Id. ¶¶ 84-85)

Plaintiff filed two separate charges of discrimination with the EEOC, dated June 22, 2001 and January 2, 2002, alleging that Murray's violated Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to promote him due to his religion. Plaintiff in turn received notices of his right to sue on November 13, 2001 and January 31, 2002, respectively. Plaintiff timely filed his ...


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