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Sanford v. Walgreen Co.

January 27, 2010

RASHAD SANFORD PLAINTIFF,
v.
WALGREEN COMPANY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David H. Coar United States District Judge

JUDGE DAVID H. COAR

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Rashad Sanford ("Plaintiff" or "Sanford") brings this action against Defendant Walgreen Company ("Defendant" or "Walgreens"), alleging that Defendant discriminated and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I) and that Defendant improperly classified him as an exempt employee and failed to pay him for overtime work in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. (Count IV) and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), 820 ILCS 105/1 et seq. (Count V). Defendant moves for summary judgment on all of these claims. In response to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff withdraws his FLSA and IMWL claims. Accordingly, the only issue before the Court is whether Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for violations of Title VII and § 1981 (Count I). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Rashad Sanford is currently an Executive Assistant Store Manager ("EXA") in Walgreens Store 2036. (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("DSOF") ¶¶ 1, 16.) He has been employed by Walgreens since March 1999 (id. ¶ 5), and he began working at Store 2036 in February 2006 (id. ¶ 16). Store 2036 falls within District 203, which is managed by district manager, Colleen Hayes ("Hayes"). (Id. ¶ 6.) Sanford has reported to three different store managers while employed at Store 2036, including Brian Rost ("Rost") who he claims discriminated against him on account of his race. (Id. ¶ 23.)

To support his allegation that Rost discriminated against him, Sanford identifies two comments he claims reflect Rost's racial animus. Sanford alleges that, on one occasion, when he came into work on his day off wearing a "jogging suit," Rost told him, "you look like you're from the hood," and, on another occasion, he overheard Rost state that the store was in the "ghetto." (DSOF ¶¶ 25-26.) Sanford also claims that Rost surrounded himself with white employees and generally treated them more favorably than black employees. According to Sanford, Rost's discriminatory animus influenced his review of Sanford's performance. In Sanford's 2007 performance review, Rost gave him an overall rating of "meets expectations." (Id. ¶ 30.) Sanford received the same overall rating in his 2006 performance review, which was also completed by Rost, and in 2008 and 2009 performance reviews issued by other managers. (Id. ¶ 29.) Sanford does not believe that those reviews were discriminatory or retaliatory. (Id.) In addition to contesting the overall rating Rost gave him in 2007, Sanford believes Rost assessed his performance unfairly in six categories: Inventory Management, Shrink Control, Pharmacy Operations, Follow-Through, Time Management, and Leadership. (Id. ¶ 31.) However, Sanford admits to shortcomings in several of these areas. In the category of Shrink Control, in which Rost rated Sanford "needs improvement," Sanford admits that he "missed a couple of cash counts." (Id.) In Pharmacy Operations, in which Rost gave Sanford an "unacceptable rating," Sanford testified that he did not meet the goal that was set for him in that area. (Id.) With respect to Follow-Through and Time Management, in which Rost rated Sanford "needs improvement," Sanford admits that there was a project that he did not complete. Additionally, Sanford claims that he deserved higher ratings than "meets expectations" in Leadership and "needs improvement" in Inventory Management. Rost's 2007 review of Sanford's performance also included ratings of "above average" in four categories and praised Sanford for serving as a "team player [who] will help out where required," being "very good with customers and employees" and "communicat[ing] with people very well." (Pl. Ex. 9.)

Sanford blames his 2007 performance review, in part, for Walgreens's failure to promote him from EXA to store manager. In Sanford's district, district manager Colleen Hayes decides which employees to promote. (DSOF ¶ 55.) Sanford believes that he should have been promoted to any open store manager position since he began working in July 2005. When deciding whom to promote, Hayes considers "each individual's combination of attributes." (Id. ¶ 56.) Although she considers many factors in this analysis, Hayes typically promotes only those EXAs who have received at least "above average" performance review ratings. (Id.) Since July 2005, Hayes has promoted 12 individuals. (See id. ¶¶ 59-70.) Of these 12, three were black, and ten had performance ratings higher than Sanford's (e.g., "above average" or "outstanding") in the year leading up to their promotions. (See id.) Hayes explained why she believed that each EXA she promoted was more qualified than Sanford. (Id.) For example, she testified that Mirdad Sweis, who did not receive a higher performance review than Sanford, was more qualified than Sanford because he "had stronger merchandising, leadership, and stockroom organization skills." (Id. ¶ 65.) The other EXA promoted without a higher performance review than Sanford was Latoya Elston, a black woman. (Id. ¶ 63.) Hayes explained that she promoted Elston over Sanford because Elston had previous experience as a store manager in a different Walgreens district, and she "had stronger management and merchandising skills . . . and demonstrated a greater sense of urgency" than Sanford. (Id.) Sanford testified that he had no reason to believe that Hayes would lie about why she selected certain people for their positions. (Id. ¶ 58.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). At summary judgment, the "court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact." Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

ANALYSIS

When Sanford initiated this lawsuit, he alleged that he suffered various forms of race discrimination throughout his career at Walgreens. In response to Walgreens's motion for summary judgment, Sanford withdraws his claim that he experienced a hostile work environment due to race discrimination. In addition, Sanford fails to respond to Walgreens's motion regarding his claim that he was demoted because of his race, and Walgreens is therefore entitled to summary judgment on that claim. Sanford's remaining claims revolve around Walgreens's failure to promote him from EXA to store manager. Specifically, Sanford claims that Walgreens repeatedly passed him over for promotions because of his race, that in 2007, Rost issued a discriminatory performance review that contributed to Walgreens's failure to promote him, and that Walgreens retaliated against Sanford by refusing to promote him after he filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

I. Failure to Promote

Walgreens moves for summary judgment on Sanford's claim that the company failed to promote him because of his race in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn1 A plaintiff can support a claim for failure to promote by directly showing that an employer's decision was motivated by racial discrimination (the "direct method") or by employing the burden-shifting method set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) (the "indirect method"). Brown v. Ill. Dept. of Natural Res., 499 F.3d 675, 681 (7th Cir. 2007); see Darchak v. City of Chi. Bd. of Educ., 580 F.3d 622,630 (7th Cir. ...


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