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Miles v. Home Depot USA

August 28, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge


Plaintiff John A. Miles ("Miles") alleges that his former employer, defendant Home Depot USA, Inc. ("Home Depot"), discriminated against Miles on the basis of his sex and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), when Miles was constructively discharged from his position as store manager of Home Depot's Elk Grove, Illinois store. Now pending before the court is Home Depot's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 29.) For the reasons set forth below, Home Depot's motion for summary judgment is granted, and its request for attorneys fees is denied.


Miles was first hired by Home Depot in September 1994 as an Assistant Store Manager. In February 1997, he was promoted to Store Manager of the Niles, Illinois store. While at the Niles store, Miles received an Associate Performance Notice ("APN") from District Manager Gregg Gerstenberger for poor job performance. Thereafter, in November 2000, Miles transferred to the position of Store Manager of the Evanston, Illinois store. On August 9, 2001, Miles received another APN from District Manager Hector Johnston ("Johnston") for poor job performance at the Evanston store. The August 9, 2001 APN stated that Miles had "30 days to show measurable and sustainable improvement in the store standards" before being terminated. (Dkt. No. 44-2 ("Pl.'s Add'l Facts") ¶ 2.) Despite this 30-day time frame, Miles received a second APN from Johnston on August 24, 2001, which threatened to terminate Miles. Miles' initial term of employment with Home Depot came to an end on August 24, 2001, when Miles signed off on the August 24, 2001 APN and subsequently resigned.

At the invitation of Home Depot District Manager John Sheehan, Miles reapplied for a position with Home Depot and resumed his employment with Home Depot as an Assistant Store Manager at the Palatine, Illinois store on April 1, 2002. In December 2002, Miles became the Operations Assistant Store Manager at the Palatine store and, in September 2003, he transferred to the Brickyard store in the same position.*fn2 Miles then became Store Manager of Home Depot's Elk Grove store on May 17, 2004.

At the Elk Grove store, Miles' direct superior was District Manager Mike Koulianos ("Koulianos"). The Elk Grove store was a relatively newer store compared to other Home Depot stores in the area, and was approximately six months old at the time Miles became the Store Manager. On May 29, 2004, less than two weeks after Miles began working at the Elk Grove store, Koulianos and Regional Vice President Mike Roy conducted a store walk with Miles. Miles took notes during the May 29, 2004 store walk concerning a number of "action items" he needed to address, but he did not consider the store walk to be "unsatisfactory." (Dkt. No. 31 ("Def.'s SMF") ¶ 27.)

In February 2005, Miles was given an annual review.*fn3 (Def.'s Ex. 8 ("February 2005 Annual Review").) In this review, Miles received a rating of "P" for overall performance,*fn4 "3" for leadership,*fn5 and "=" for potential.*fn6 The February 2005 Annual Review also identified six of Miles' "key strengths," (Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 11), as well as three "key development needs" and several "areas to focus," including "missed sales by -$1.4 million, missed profit plan by 217,000, spr avg was 88%, workers comp was over $176,000, curriculum training was 66% and payroll was over plan." (Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 32-33.)

Koulianos followed up the February 2005 Annual Review with a March 8, 2005 performance memo to Miles. (Def.'s Ex. 7 ("Performance Memo").) In the Performance Memo, Koulianos pointed out that "[t]he store manager is responsible for making sure key initiatives are being met each and every month" and Koulianos documented the specific performance metrics that Miles had achieved and missed, concluding "[a]s you can see you missed many metrics. The expectations are that you will make these each month. I expect going forward that your stores [sic] performance will improve. Please submit your Action Plan to improve." (Def.'s SMF ¶ 30.)

Following Miles' February 2005 Annual Review, various Home Depot managers conducted store walks of the Elk Grove store with Miles in April, May, and June 2005. Miles took notes for each walk. (Def.'s Ex. 9 ("Miles' Spring 2005 Notes").) During these store walks, Miles' supervisors pointed out areas that needed to be addressed at the Elk Grove store. The parties dispute whether Miles' notes demonstrated a "less than satisfactory" view of Miles' performance (as characterized by Home Depot in its motion) or whether the notes merely recorded "opportunities" for the Elk Grove store to improve (as characterized by Miles in his deposition testimony). (See Def.'s SMF ¶ 35.) It is undisputed that Miles' notes from the June 6, 2005 store walk state "WE MUST GET GREEN!," in reference to Home Depot's ranking system for inventory prep, where "Green means that you're good. Yellow means that there's issues. Red means there's cause for alert." (Def.'s SMF ¶ 37 (citing Miles' Spring 2005 Notes at JM 001558 and quoting Miles' 3/4/09 Dep. at 139).) Miles does not recall the Elk Grove store "being anything other than green." (Id.)

On June 10, 2005, Koulianos emailed Miles and the Elk Grove Assistant Store Managers, noting he was "concerned with the SALES trend that your store is showing." (Def.'s Ex. 10; Def.'s SMF ¶ 39.) Koulianos noted six areas of specific concern and recognized the need "to do a 180 here." (Id.)

On June 30, 2005, Koulianos and District Human Resources Manager Mike Wong ("Wong") met with Miles to put him on a 60-day performance improvement plan. (Def.'s Ex. 11 ("June 2005 PIP").) The June 2005 PIP noted Miles' inability "to maintain/set consistent standards in major aspects of the business for store 6701 for the first 6 months of FY05," and identified specific areas in which the Elk Grove store was "not meeting the expectations," not "consistently maintain[ing] Divisions standards," and was "worst" or "last" in the district. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 42.) The PIP also included four "major areas of opportunity," and concluded:

"Based on the above, you are presently working below Home Depot standards and expectations." "You are hereby placed on a Performance Improvement Plan, not to exceed 60 days in duration effective immediately(6/30/2005). We will meet for touch-base sessions that will be held weekly in order to evaluate your present performance. "This requires immediate and consistent improvement ongoing." "Failure to provide this will result in termination of your employment." (Id. (bold type and quotation marks in original exhibit).)

Soon after receiving the June 2005 PIP, Miles took a medical leave of absence for a low back sprain and sleep apnea from July 2, 2005 through October 3, 2005. Upon his return to work, on October 15, 2005, Miles submitted his "game plan for improvement" to Koulianos, assuming that he was subject to the terms of the PIP. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 46.) However, Koulianos' own employment with Home Depot ended on October 24, 2005. The acting District Manager who took over for Koulianos, Patty Stoddard, did not follow up with Miles regarding the June 2005 PIP.

In February 2006, Jeff Ferreira ("Ferreira") became the permanent District Manager over Miles' district. Regional Human Resources Manager Jody Beemsterboer ("Beemsterboer") was Ferreira's Human Resources partner. Ferreira and Beemsterboer were unsuccessful in their attempts to locate a written copy of the June 2005 PIP after taking over Miles' district. However, Wong and Miles both ...

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