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Lynn Hankins v. Best Buy Co.

December 2, 2011

LYNN HANKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BEST BUY CO., INC., BEST BUY STORES, L.P., RAYMOND SILVA, AND SCOTT AZARA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

OPINION AND ORDER

Lynn Hankins filed his second amended complaint against Best Buy Co., Inc., Best Buy Stores, L.P., Raymond Silva, and Scott Azara alleging race discrimination, retaliation, and termination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-101 et seq. ("IHRA").*fn1 Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss certain Title VII and IHRA claims alleged in Counts IV--IX of the second amended complaint. For the following reasons, defendants' motion [#27] will be granted.

BACKGROUND*fn2

Lynn Hankins is an African-American male who worked for defendants Best Buy Co., Inc. and Best Buy Stores, L.P. (collectively, "Best Buy") from 1995 until January 15, 2010. Between 1995 and 2005, he worked as Merchandising Manager, Operations Manager, Sales Manager, General Manager, Change Implementation Trainer, District Manager, and Director of Customer Centricity Transformation at Best Buy stores and offices in Illinois and Michigan.

Lynn Hankins's brother, Robert Hankins, also worked at Best Buy. Robert started working as a security guard at a Matteson, Illinois, store and was later promoted to Merchandising Manager in Evanston, Illinois. In April 2002, Robert was transferred to the Best Buy store on North Avenue in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Raymond Silva, a white male, was the store's General Manager. According to Robert, Silva allowed white managers, including Carl Costabile, to make sexually explicit comments and gestures that were based on racial stereotypes. Silva and Costabile also "partied" with white managers at the North Avenue store, covered for each other when the partying resulted in absences or tardiness, and excluded Robert from their social activities. As a result, Robert's professional progress was stymied. Sometime in 2004, Robert took a short leave of absence to receive treatment for depression. Silva fired Robert on April 1, 2004, while he was still on leave.

In September 2005, Robert filed suit in this district against Best Buy Stores, L.P., alleging that Silva and other white male assistant managers had subjected him to verbal and physical harassment in violation of the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Title VII. (See Compl., Case No. 05 C 5156.) Robert's complaint alleged that he was denied pay increases and favorable shifts that were given to male managers who weren't African-American, that he was evaluated according to more stringent disciplinary and performance standards than the other managers who weren't African-American, and that managers in his division constantly referred to and touched his genitals and buttocks, played sexually explicit games in his presence, and made vulgar comments about sex. (Id. ¶¶ 11--13.) Robert's lawsuit settled for an undisclosed amount in 2006.

Lynn Hankins had minimal contact with his brother and was not aware of the allegations in Robert's complaint. Indeed, during the same month when Robert filed his complaint, Lynn was promoted to the position of Director of Segment Services Strategy Innovation. In this position, Lynn worked closely with ten designated "lab stores" to test new products and services for possible national implementation. Lynn was also, for the first time, required to work with Silva because the North Avenue store was one of the ten designated stores. Silva was hostile and disrespectful towards Lynn, even though Lynn was Silva's superior. In April 2006, Lynn was promoted to the position of Territory Services Director. This position was created specifically for Lynn and his primary responsibility was to implement Best Buy's "Geek Squad" program on a national level. The "Geek Squad" is Best Buy's extremely successful repair, installation and setup service.

Silva, in the meantime, was promoted to District Manager and then moved laterally to Customer Experience Manager. As a Customer Experience Manager, Silva planned events for Best Buy. Lynn and Silva were now required to work together frequently. On one occasion, Silva verbally abused Lynn while they were on a conference call and then came into Lynn's office and cursed at him and threatened him with a baseball bat. On another occasion, Silva accused Lynn of being "on drugs." This accusation was reminiscent of Silva's harassment of Robert, whom Silva had accused of being drunk at work.

Many of the events that Silva planned took place at bars and strip clubs that had mostly white, male patrons. Lynn attended the events because he was required to socialize with other managers in the Chicago area, but usually he was the only African-American present. During a business trip in Indiana, Lynn went to dinner with the other Best Buy employees but did not go out drinking with them because he did not want to be the only African-American patron at an all-white bar. The next morning, Silva asked Lynn whether he thought he was "too good" for the other employees and told Lynn that he had missed an opportunity to learn something. During an event at Jilly's Bar on Rush Street in downtown Chicago, Lynn was called a "nigger" by another Jilly's patron. Lynn was upset, and he later talked to Silva about scheduling events in more racially diverse venues and suggested that Best Buy have an event at the South Loop blues club Buddy Guy's Legends. Silva responded, "These are not our people," and then said that Buddy Guy's Legends was in a dangerous part of the city. Another time, Lynn suggested that Best Buy hold an event at a reggae club on Clark Street. Silva rejected this idea, too.

Silva frequently used his position to cultivate his own relationships with prominent sports and entertainment figures at Best Buy's expense. He took a group of Chicago-based Best Buy employees on a trip to Florida to install a home theater for Chicago White Sox catcher A. J. Pierzynski. Lynn believed that Silva should have used employees in Florida for the installation, rather than paying for the travel expenses of Chicago employees. When Lynn questioned Silva about the expenditures, Silva was extremely hostile. Silva was never reprimanded or disciplined after the trip.

In September 2007, Lynn transferred to the position of General Manager at a Best Buy store in Downers Grove because the Territory Services Director position was phased out. The District Manager for Lynn's store was Scott Azara, a white male who was Silva's good friend. Azara cut the hours that were allocated to Lynn's store in order to make it harder for the store to earn revenue. He treated Lynn less favorably than he treated white managers, whose mistakes he frequently hid from upper management. Azara also directed Lynn to hire Costabile as an Inventory Manager even though Lynn did not think Costabile was qualified for the position. Then, in September 2009, Silva was promoted to the position of Regional Manager and became one of Lynn's bosses.

At around the time of Silva's promotion, Lynn began to prepare for Christmas sales at the Downers Grove store. Azara had instructed all of his managers to sell distressed merchandise and end of life products, even if the merchandise would be sold at a discount to customers and employees. This instruction was consistent with Best Buy's longstanding practice of encouraging managers and employees to purchase end of life merchandise at a discount. Lynn thought that an effective method of selling end of life merchandise would be to hold a special holiday sale that applied the equivalent of the employee discount to non-employee customers.

In early December 2009, Lynn reviewed his sales plans with John Greer, the Territory Strategy Manager for the region. Lynn stated that he was considering three different ways of handling an upcoming special holiday sales event. He discussed these three options extensively with Greer, who stated that the most profitable option might be to use the equivalent of an employee discount as well as gift cards.*fn3 Lynn was given discretion to make his own decision as to how to manage his sales event, however. On December 13, 2009, Lynn held a special sales event and he used the equivalent of the employee discount of 5% above cost rather than applying the discount of 10% on all products that had been used in years past. The event was a financial success. The next day, Greer indicated that he was pleased with the results of the sale and agreed that Lynn should hold a similar event the next weekend. Greer never indicated that the event might violate company policy.

Approximately two days later, the district's Loss Prevention Manager and Human Resources Manager visited Lynn and asked about the sales event. Lynn described the event in detail, as well as his rationale for applying the employee discount rate of 5% above cost. Lynn asked if there was any problem with the event. He was told that there was no problem and to go ahead with the sale that was planned for the upcoming weekend. Lynn held the second sale on December 20, 2009. Two days later Lynn purchased two "end of life" laptops that were left over from Black Friday and a damaged television set and stand. Both of these items were available to any customer or employee during the sales events but they had not been sold. Lynn's ...


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