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Eric Motto v. Wal-Mart Stores East

May 3, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.


This employment discrimination suit arises from the defendant's decision to terminate the plaintiff, Eric Motto. Motto argues that his former employer, Wal-Mart Stores East, LP ("Wal-Mart") terminated him on account of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and in retaliation for previously lodging complaints of discrimination with both Wal-Mart and governmental authorities, also in violation of § 1981. Wal-Mart has moved for summary judgment on Motto's discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

After holding oral argument, the Court will grant WalMart's motion.

I. Summary Judgment Record

The facts described herein are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Inferences are drawn in the light most favorable to Motto, the non-moving party. Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009).

A. Motto's Employment with Wal-Mart

In March 2007, Motto began working as an assembler at the Wal-Mart retail store in Temple, Pennsylvania. PX A (9/7/11 Motto Dep.) at 13, 17.*fn1 Motto self-identifies as mixed race, Caucasian and African American, and noted that racial identity on his initial employment documents with Wal-Mart. Motto worked with three other assemblers at Wal-Mart, including Mike Minicozzi, who is Caucasian. Id. at 10-11, 76-77, 90-91. When Motto began working at the Temple store, Elmer Clark was the store manager. Clark is also Caucasian. Id. at 68.

As an assembler at Wal-Mart, Motto generally worked in the receiving area at the back of the store, putting together merchandise for customers. He also answered customer questions regarding Wal-Mart products and assisted customers by carrying their purchases to their cars. Id. at 15-17, 79. When Motto applied for a position at Wal-Mart's Temple store, he stated that he was available to work during the evenings. Once employed, Motto generally worked an evening shift lasting until between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., although his schedule varied. Id. at 71, 91. Scheduling assignments were made on the basis of employees' availability and "customer traffic." Id. at 108; PX H (Assoc. Customer Serv. Scheduling Availability Form).

In June 2007, Motto transferred to a service technician position at the Temple Wal-Mart. PX A at 93. While in that position, one of Motto's co-workers, Jay, called him a "nigger" and frequently used that term around Motto, even after Motto objected. Motto reported his co-worker's behavior to his supervisors at the time, individuals named Tim and Suzanne. Suzanne told Motto that they would "take care of it" and that Motto did not need to continue working with Jay if he did not want. Approximately a week or two later, human resources personnel informed Motto that Jay was terminated. Motto returned to his assembler position in October 2007. Id. at 84-87, 106.

B. Motto's Requests to Change Shifts

At some point in 2008, Motto became the bass player for

a studio band called Flight 106. Flight 106 rehearsed several times a week, and rehearsals began no later than 7:30 p.m. Id. at 41-42, 45, 113. To accommodate his band's rehearsal sessions, in February 2008, Motto submitted a scheduling form to Clark requesting that his work schedule be limited to shifts between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Id. at 108-09. The form stated that a scheduling request did not guarantee the requesting employee a particular shift. PX H.

Over the next two months, Motto continued to be assigned evening shifts at Wal-Mart. He also learned that the shift request had not been placed in his personnel file. On April 24, 2008, Motto filled out another scheduling availability form, again requesting shifts only between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., and gave it to his immediate supervisor, Randy Laing, a white male. After submitting his scheduling availability form, Motto spoke with Laing several times in the ensuing weeks to make sure that his request was approved. Laing assured Motto on multiple occasions that he would discuss the shift request with Clark, although he made conflicting statements about whether he had yet given the form to Clark for his approval. PX A at 77-78, 110-11, 115-17, 120-21.

Starting on May 24, 2008, Motto believed his request to change shifts had been granted. From that date until approximately October 2008, Motto was only required to work shifts that ended by 7:00 p.m.*fn2 At no point did Motto's salary decrease, and his assembler position and hours per workweek did not change. Id. at 126-28, 130.

In March 2008, Minicozzi had also submitted a scheduling request that he be given dayshift assignments between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Minicozzi's request was signed and approved the day it was submitted. Id. at 125, 172.

Beginning in October 2008, Motto noticed that he was being scheduled to work past 7:00 p.m. When he brought the issue to Laing's attention, Laing responded that, with the holidays approaching, he needed Motto to work later shifts. During the holiday season, the store was busier, experiencing higher customer volume, and Motto continued to be scheduled for evening work for the remainder of 2008. Due to his longer work schedule, Motto was often late to band rehearsal or could not attend rehearsal altogether. For that reason, around Thanksgiving, the other members of Flight 106 released Motto from the band. Id. at 130-32, 134.

Also right before Thanksgiving 2008, Clark left his position as store manager for the Temple Wal-Mart. Id. at 131. On January 13, 2009, Motto had a meeting with the new store manager, Robin Olshenske, and Laing to discuss his shift assignments. During that meeting, Olshenske checked the computer and informed Motto that his April 2008 shift change request had never been placed into the store's system. Motto stated that was impossible because he had given the form to Laing. Laing replied that he had, in turn, submitted the form to Clark. Two days later, Olshenske notified Motto that she had changed his hours of availability in the store's computer system to comply with his April 2008 availability request. After January 2009, Motto was not again scheduled to work past 7:00 p.m. Id. at 138-42, 146-48, 150.

C. Motto's Complaints of Race Discrimination On March 17, 2009, Motto filed a complaint with the

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that Wal-Mart had engaged in impermissible race discrimination by failing to adjust formally his work schedule between April 2008 and January 2009. PX G (3/17/09 PHRC/EEOC Compl.). Motto filed his original complaint in this ...

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