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Dwonka v. Lowe's Companies

February 8, 2011

DWONKA ELAINE COMPTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOWE'S COMPANIES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Lowe's Companies, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 52) and Memorandum (Doc. 53) in support thereof. Plaintiff Dwonka Elaine Compton (hereinafter "Compton") filed a pro se Response (Doc. 54) thereto, to which Lowe's Companies, Inc. filed a Reply (Doc. 55). Essentially, Lowe's Companies, Inc. argues it is not the proper defendant to this litigation. This is not the first time this issue has been raised - in several of its pleadings, Lowe's Companies, Inc. informed Compton and the Court that Lowe's Home Centers Inc. was Compton's employer and is the proper entity to this litigation. Lowe's Companies, Inc. maintains that Compton's repeated failure to substitute defendants warrants its dismissal from this matter with prejudice.

It is apparent from Compton's response that she was confused about the relationship of Lowe's Companies Inc. and Lowe's Home Centers Inc. and their involvement with her case. More importantly, it is apparent from the briefing of the summary judgment motion that Lowe's Home Centers Inc., which does not object to being added as a defendant, see Doc. 53, p. 1 n.1, is the proper party to this litigation. For these reasons, as well as the fact that this case is ripe for adjudication on its merits, the Court GRANTS the instant motion (Doc. 52), whereby the Court DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to ADD Lowe's Home Centers Inc. as a party defendant, DISMISSES Lowe's Companies, Inc. with prejudice, and DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to enter judgment accordingly.

This matter also comes before the Court on Defendant Lowe's Home Centers Inc.'s (hereinafter "Lowe's" or "the company") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 56) and Memorandum (Doc. 57) in support thereof. Compton filed a pro se Response (Doc. 58) thereto, to which, Lowe's filed a Reply (Doc. 60). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS said summary judgment motion.

BACKGROUND

I. Facts

In analyzing a motion for summary judgment, the reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court, construing the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Compton, finds as follows:

In November 2006, Lowe's hired Compton, an African-American female, to work as the lone credit and special order sales coordinator in its Belleville, Illinois store. During her employment with Lowe's, Compton's immediate supervisor was Administrative Manager Rick Hedge (hereinafter "Hedge"); meanwhile, the store manager throughout her tenure was Anthony "Ange" Picillo (hereinafter "Picillo"), who had authority over the entire store and its employees. Around the time of her hiring, Compton received Lowes' Human Resources Performance Management Guide, which promulgated the company's expectations relating to workplace behavior and job performance. The Human Resources Performance Management Guide provided for Class "A," "B," and "C" violations; for example, if an employee committed a Class "A" violation such as insubordination, she was "normally subject . . . to immediate termination on the first occurrence." Doc. 57-3, p. 19.

It did not take long for Compton to run into disciplinary problems at Lowe's. Because she clocked in prior to the start of her shift on February 20, 2007, Hedge gave her a verbal performance report. A few weeks later, Compton reported to Lowe's that Hedge was not treating her fairly. On March 20, Compton failed an audit conducted by the company's regional operations manager. Hedge thereafter gave her a written performance report for failing this audit and for failing to timely complete an unrelated, mandatory training. Like her verbal reprimand, Compton disputed this written report; specifically, she e-mailed Picillo and the regional operations manager and explained that she was being "singled out" for discipline. Doc. 57-4. Then, on April 16, Compton received a second written performance report from Hedge for failing to maintain a sheet that tracked the status of her daily tasks. Once again, she complained about the issuance of the report, this time to the operations manager and the regional operations manager.

Up to this point, none of the reprimands that Compton received had resulted in demotion, increased or decreased duties, or negative consequences to her pay, benefits or job status. Furthermore, up to this point, none of Compton's "grievances" mentioned that Hedge was acting on the basis of race or gender.

Compton's employment with Lowe's came to a head on July 27, 2007. When Compton arrived for her shift on that date, she learned of a muriatic acid spill that occurred the previous night. Compton, who was six months pregnant at the time, expressed concerns to Picillo about working so soon after the spill. Picillo explained that the building, which was full of other employees and customers by this time, had been reviewed and cleared by the fire department. He specifically told Compton not to leave the building. Picillo's assurances and direct order did not trump Compton's fear for the safety of her baby, and she ultimately left the store until her next scheduled shift. No other employees left the store or refused to enter the building that day and there were at least five pregnant women employed by the Belleville Lowe's at the time.

When Compton returned to work on July 30, she presented Picillo with a doctor's note excusing her from work on July 27, which she obtained after she left the store that day. In other words, Picillo was unaware of the doctor's note on July 27 because it retroactively excused her from work. Picillo had Compton give a written statement that confirmed she abandoned her shift as the sole credit and special order sales coordinator. Picillo classified this conduct as insubordination, again a Class "A" violation according to the Lowe's Human Resources Performance Management Guide, and immediately terminated her employment. Shortly thereafter, Compton sought legal recourse.

II. Relevant Procedural Posture

On August 9, 2007, Compton timely filed a charge of discrimination form with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Following completion of the ...


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