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Holmes-McCleave v. Value City Furnature

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 3, 2020



          A. David Copperthite, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendant American Signature, Inc. moves this Court for summary judgment (the "Motion") (ECF No. 32). Defendant seeks a ruling from the Court that it did not discriminate against pro se Plaintiff Carrie Holmes-McCleave in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or defame her relating to her termination. Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 42), and Defendant replied and filed a Motion to Strike certain Plaintiffs exhibits attached to her response as improper summary judgment evidence (ECF No. 45).

         After considering the Motion and responses thereto, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc.R. 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). In addition, having reviewed the pleadings of record and all competent and admissible evidence submitted by the parties, the Court finds there are no genuine issues of material fact as to any of the claims. Accordingly, the Court will GRANT Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 32). The Court will also DENY Defendant's Motion to Strike certain Plaintiff s exhibits as moot (ECF No. 45).

         Factual Background

         Defendant American Signature, Inc. operates over one hundred retail furniture stores under the names "Value City Furniture" or "American Signature stores." ECF No. 32-1 at 5.[2] Defendant employs Home Furnishing Consultants ("HFCs") to assist customers selecting furniture pieces on the sales floor. Id. at 6. Defendant compensates HFCs with both an hourly wage and commissions on customer purchases. Id. at 7. To assure that customers are fairly allocated among the HFCs, Defendant uses what it calls the "Up System." Id. at 6. According to Defendant's HFC Training Guide, the "Up System" keeps track of the available HFCs and the order in which they are assigned customers. ECF No. 32-6 at 2. The "Up System" is rotational and has many procedures in place to assure that HFCs are receiving equal customer opportunities and that HFCs are properly prepared to assist customers. See Id. at 2-3.

         In addition to utilizing the "Up System" for HFCs, Defendant also has rules in place that prohibit HFCs from infringing on each other's sales opportunities. If an HFC is with a customer, another HFC is prohibited from interrupting the first HFC's consultation, which is known as "crashing" a sale. Id. at 5. Furthermore, Defendant has a procedure in place for situations in which multiple HFCs assist the same customer on different days. This scenario is referred to as a "split sale" and allows multiple HFCs to receive commissions for assisting the same customer. Id. at 7. Customers are identified by name, address, and phone number in Defendant's internal system so that HFCs can check whether a customer has a preexisting quote generated by another HFC. ECF No. 32-1 at 7. If the customer has an existing quote in the system, the two HFCs assisting the customer on separate occasions will split the sale if a customer ultimately makes a purchase, and both HFCs' names will go on the quote that later becomes a customer invoice. Id. When an HFC attempts to take full credit for a sale that should be a split sale, Defendant refers to this as "stealing" a sale and considers it a form of theft. Id. Defendant's Team Member Handbook, of which all HFCs receive a copy, states that theft is an offense for which an employee can be fired "without any prior Corrective Action taking place." ECF No. 32-4 at 4.

         Defendant hired Plaintiff, an African American woman, as an HFC in May 2015 at its Value City Furniture location in White Marsh, Maryland. ECF No. 32-1 at 5; ECF No. 32-2 at 8, 11. During her time working for Defendant, Plaintiff alleges she was a "million dollar writer," which is "an HFC who sells at least a million dollars' worth of furniture annually." ECF No. 32-1 at 10 n.56. Million dollar writers are given special business cards denoting their status as well as a plaque in the employees' lunch room. ECF No. 32-2 at 42. Plaintiff received neither the special business cards nor the plaque. Id. at 42-43. When Plaintiff did receive her regular business cards, they listed her legal name, Carrie Holmes-McCleave, as opposed to her preferred name, Carrie Holmes. Id. at 45. Plaintiff s name on all employment-related documents listed her name as Carrie Holmes-McCleave for the entire duration of her employment with Defendant. Id. at 46-47.

         On March 25, 2016, a customer visited the White Marsh Value City Furniture and specifically asked for an HFC named Chris. ECF No. 32-7 at 1. Instead of paging Chris to let him know a customer was asking for him, Plaintiff told the customer he was busy and that she could assist the customer. Id. Because she failed to abide by store policy by declining to alert HFC Chris to his customer, Plaintiff received a formal Corrective Action Report for attempting to "steal" a sale on March 30, 2016. Id.; 32-1 at 7.

         In September 2017, Plaintiff was planning on purchasing some furniture from Defendant, and she was entitled to an employee discount. ECF No. 32-2 at 47. When Plaintiff took the purchase slip to the managers' office, the manager who rang up her order did not initially apply the employee discount to the delivery fee. Id. When she went back to the office and alerted the manager to the mistake, the store manager Tony Bill instructed assistant manager Faydonia Millings (who seemingly processed the purchase slip initially) to apply the discount to the delivery fee. Id. Because Plaintiff had to ask the managers to apply the employee discount to which she was entitled, Plaintiff ultimately did not complete the purchase. Id. at 47-48.

         On October 3, 2017, HFC Will Lewis served a customer named Kumar Karki and created a quote for approximately $10, 000 of various furniture pieces. ECF No. 32-8 at 3-4. The next day, on October 4, 2017, Plaintiff created a separate quote in her name for Mr. Karki-using the same address and phone number-for the exact same furniture pieces listed on Mr. Lewis's quote. Compare Id. at 1-2 (Plaintiffs quote listing the names and colors of the furniture pieces, as well as a total transaction charge of $10, 720.20 after tax), with Id. at 3-4 (Mr. Lewis's quote listing the names and colors of the furniture pieces, as well as a total transaction charge of $10, 729.20 after tax). On October 6, 2017, an invoice was generated for Kalpana Karki (using the same address as Mr. Karki) listing Plaintiff as the sole salesperson for many of the same furniture pieces that appear on Plaintiffs and Mr. Lewis's prior quotes. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff acknowledges that there was no ticket that contained both hers and Mr. Lewis's names. ECF No. 32-2 at 28. Plaintiff also acknowledges that a split sale would have been appropriate in this situation. Id. at 35 ("Q[:] . .. Then some form of split sale would have been appropriate?" "A[:] Yes, ma'am. It would have been appropriate.").

         After the sale to the Karkis was complete, Anton Sanders, the store's sales manager, and Ms. Millings investigated the transaction. ECF No. 32-1 at 8. They determined that Plaintiff had been dishonest in creating a separate quote from Mr. Lewis's and that she had done so to retain the full commission instead of splitting it with Mr. Lewis. Id. at 8-9. Mr. Sanders forwarded the investigation to Defendant's Director of Human Resources, Kristen Bell, who accepted Mr. Sanders' recommendation that Plaintiff be terminated. Id. at 9; ECF No. 32-3 at 2. Plaintiff was terminated on October 11, 2017. ECF No. 1 at 6.

         At the time of her termination, Plaintiff reported to assistant manager Ms. Millings, an African American woman, sales manager Mr. Sanders, an African American man, and store manager Mr. Bill, a white man. ECF No. 32-1 at 6; ECF No. 32-2 at 9, 18. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Millings would "target" her because of her gender, but also states she "was nasty to more than one person," including Plaintiff, of various races and genders. ECF No. 32-2 at 24-25. She similarly alleges that Mr. Sanders discriminated against her based on her gender, but she "do[es] not have any factual basis" to support this allegation other than her feeling. Id. at 22-23. Finally, she alleges that Mr. Bill treated her differently based on how she was dressed and whether she did or did not wear makeup. Id. at 4. Plaintiff was unaware that Ms. Bell was involved in the decision to terminate her. See Id. at 9-10.

         After her termination, on October 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") charge of discrimination alleging race and sex discrimination. ECF No. 32-9 at 1. She received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC on March 26, 2018. ECF No. 1-1 at 1.

         Procedural ...

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