United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
DAMON M. MYERS, Plaintiff,
AUTOZONERS, LLC, Defendant.
Barry Fischer, United States District Judge
case arises from Plaintiff Damon M. Myers' allegations
that his former employer, Defendant AutoZoners, LLC
(“AutoZone”), discriminated against him because
of his race and retaliated against him in violation of Title
VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Immediately
following the case management conference, the parties engaged
in settlement negotiations. Although the parties agree that
they entered into a valid and enforceable settlement
agreement that day, they vigorously dispute whether Mr. Myers
agreed to a general release as part of the settlement.
AutoZone contends that he did; but, Mr. Myers is adamant that
he authorized his attorney to settle this case only if the
settlement did not affect a wrongful discharge claim that he
was concurrently pursuing in the EEOC.
pending before the Court is AutoZone's motion to enforce
settlement agreement, wherein it seeks an order from the
Court requiring Mr. Myers “to execute the Release
agreed to by the parties and abide by the terms of the
settlement agreement  which are contained in the
Release.” (Docket Nos. 42, 42-1). After the filing of
AutoZone's motion, Mr. Myers' counsel withdrew his
appearance and Mr. Myers has since been proceeding pro
se. Mr. Myers has also filed a motion that is pending
before the Court, entitled “Motion" Appeal &
Plea to Judge [Fischer], ” which, among other things,
does not oppose the Court enforcing the parties'
agreement to settle this case but requests that the Court
order that the settlement does not include the wrongful
discharge claim that he was concurrently pursuing in the
EEOC. (Docket No. 67). The Court has carefully considered the
parties' legal memoranda and has held two
hearings/arguments in connection with this dispute. At those
hearings, AutoZone did not offer any evidence to support its
position that Mr. Myers agreed to a general release. Mr.
Myers, in contrast, provided his own sworn statements and
testimony to support his position.
reasons that follow, the Court finds that Mr. Myers did not
agree to release the wrongful discharge claim that he was
concurrently pursuing in the EEOC when the parties settled
this case. Therefore, AutoZone's motion to enforce 
will be GRANTED, insofar as it seeks to have the Court order
enforcement of the settlement, but DENIED insofar as it seeks
to have Mr. Myers execute its general release; and, Mr.
Myers' motion  will be GRANTED, to the extent that he
seeks to have the Court order that the parties'
settlement does not include the wrongful discharge claim.
Personal Background and Nature of
Myers is a 54 year-old, African-American male. He attended
and graduated from McKeesport High School. After high school,
Mr. Myers earned an associate's degree from the Los
Angeles Community College and also obtained a medical
transcription certificate. At the time of the July 10, 2017
hearing, Mr. Myers was working as a patient-sitter at the VA
Hospital and also working as a security guard at the
here, Mr. Myers began working for AutoZone on a part-time
basis in November 2011 as a Commercial Driver. After working
there for approximately18 months, he sought to be promoted to
a full-time position. Although his request for full-time
employment was denied, he asserts that at least ten other
newly-hired part-time Caucasian employees were promoted to
fulltime employment status and/or provided with the benefits
that he had requested during the same time period.
Consequently, on February 21, 2014, Mr. Myers filed a charge
of discrimination with the EEOC for AutoZone's purported
failure to promote him to a full-time position. According to
Mr. Myers, AutoZone began to scrutinize his work and started
taking retaliatory disciplinary actions against him over the
next several months, which ultimately led to his termination
in November 2014. AutoZone informed Mr. Myers that it was
firing him for being rude and using profane language when
speaking to a customer. Mr. Myers denies this conduct and
instead claims that AutoZone terminated him in retaliation
for filing an EEOC charge.
Administrative Proceedings before the EEOC
Mr. Myers filed three charges of discrimination against
AutoZone in the EEOC. He filed the first two charges while he
was still working for AutoZone, the first being filed on
February 21, 2014, at Charge Number 533-2014-519, wherein he
asserted that AutoZone's failure to promote him to a
full-time position was discriminatory. See (Docket
No. 60-1 at 5).On July 14, 2014, Mr. Myers filed the
second charge of discrimination, at Charge Number
533-2014-973, asserting that since he filed the first charge,
three more similarly-situated white employees were promoted
to full-time status and AutoZone was retaliating against him
for filing the first charge. (Id.). AutoZone
responded to the first and second charges on August 13, 2014
and October 27, 2014, respectively. (Id. at 12-14,
22-26). In support of its position that its decisions were
legitimate and non-discriminatory, it attached nine write-ups
that were issued to Mr. Myers from November 9, 2013 to May
22, 2014. (Id. at 54-62).
in November 2014, AutoZone terminated Mr. Myers'
employment. In a letter dated December 11, 2014, Mr. Myers
notified the EEOC that his employment with AutoZone had ended
because AutoZone accused him of swearing at a customer, which
Mr. Myers denied, but stated that he was moving on with his
career, having secured a position with FedEx. (Id.
at 71). In January and February 2015, Mr. Myers sent the EEOC
documents from his unemployment compensation proceedings,
(Id. at 69-70, 73-77, 88), and on March 11, 2015, he
requested a continuance of the EEOC investigation, asserting,
among other things, that AutoZone's claimed reasons for
terminating him were false. (Id. at 86).
than a year later, on June 30, 2016, Mr. Myers filed a third
charge of discrimination, at Charge Number 533-2014-973
(Amended), which amended his second charge to include
additional allegations of race discrimination and retaliation
that allegedly occurred between filing his second charge in
July 2014 and his termination in November 2014. (Id.
at 3-4). The next day, on July 1, 2016, EEOC Investigator
John Wozniak sent AutoZone's counsel the third charge of
discrimination, with a letter stating:
In keeping with our last discussion during the conciliation
conference with [Mr. Myers'] initial charge, I informed
you that his second charge identified above would be amended
to include new issues of alleged employment discrimination
and retaliation that occurred during the time period between
07/15/2014 and ending with his termination effective
(Id. at 1). AutoZone responded to the third charge on
July 27, 2016, again denying discrimination and attaching an
additional six write-ups that were issued to Mr. Myers from
September 15, 2014 to November 20, 2014. (Id. at
17-21, 63-68). AutoZone also stated in its letter that
Mr. Myers' counsel informed it that he would be filing a
federal lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Myers in this Court.
(Id. at 17). Although Mr. Myers did, in fact,
initiate the litigation in this Court approximately one month
later in August 2016, Mr. Myers nevertheless continued
pursuing the third charge in the EEOC concurrently with this
litigation. The EEOC eventually issued a determination on
August 31, 2017 and a right-to-sue letter on September 28,
2017 on the third charge (approximately six months
after the parties agreed to settle this action).
(Docket Nos. 67-1, 72).
Procedural History in this Court
Myers initiated his case in this Court on August 26, 2016
through his then-counsel, Darren K. Parr, Esq.
(“Attorney Parr”). (Docket No. 1). Although the
original complaint was organized as asserting only one count
for “Racial Discrimination in violation of Title VII
and PHRA, ” it included allegations relating to
disparate treatment (unequal pay and benefits, failure to
promote) and hostile work environment. (Id. at
¶¶ 26-31). The complaint characterized Mr.
Myers' termination as “unlawful” but did not
explicitly allege that AutoZone fired him because he was
black, (Id. at ¶ 5), and it suggested, but did
not specifically assert, that AutoZone's termination of
Mr. Myers was retaliatory. (Id. at ¶ 15). In
addition, it alleged that Mr. Myers had satisfied all
relevant procedural and administrative requirements under
Title VII. (Id. at ¶ 4).
two months later, AutoZone responded to the complaint by
filing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state
a claim, Rule 12(f) motion to strike, and/or Rule 12(e)
motion for more definite statement, and brief in support.
(Docket Nos. 11, 12). Therein, AutoZone argued that the
complaint: (1) failed to state a PHRA claim for failing to
allege facts relative to exhaustion and that the EEOC charge
referenced in the complaint only discussed failure to
promote, not unequal pay; (2) failed to state a claim for
hostile work environment under both Title VII and the PHRA;
and (3) to the extent that the complaint was asserting a
claim for retaliation, such claim should either be stricken
or Plaintiff should be ordered to clarify what claims he is
response to AutoZone's motion, Mr. Myers, through
Attorney Parr, filed a first amended complaint on November
15, 2016, (Docket No. 16), resulting in AutoZone's motion
being terminated as moot. (Docket No. 17). Like the original
complaint, the first amended complaint contained allegations
referencing failure to promote, unequal pay, and hostile work
environment under the single heading, “Racial
Discrimination in violation of Title VII.” (Docket No.
16 at ¶¶ 16-22). The first amended complaint again
characterized Mr. Myers' termination as
“unlawful” and further alleged that
AutoZone's decision to terminate Mr. Myers'
employment was retaliatory and based on Mr. Myers' filing
of the first charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
(Id. at ¶ 20). According to the first amended
complaint, Mr. Myers had satisfied all procedural and
administrative requirements of Title VII and the PHRA with
respect to all claims set forth therein prior to filing suit.
(Id. at ¶ 4).
responded to the first amended complaint by filing another
motion under Rules 12(b)(6), 12(e), and/or 12(f), and a brief
in support. (Docket Nos. 18, 19). AutoZone reasserted that,
given the way that the first amended complaint was organized,
it remained unclear if Mr. Myers was alleging claims for: (1)
retaliatory discharge or (2) hostile work environment.
(Id.). If so, AutoZone argued that Mr. Myers failed
to state plausible claims for those causes of action.
(Id.). In the alternative, AutoZone sought to have
Mr. Myers provide a more definite statement and clarify what
claims he was asserting against it. (Id.).
to the Court's standing order on motions practice, Mr.
Myers' response to AutoZone's motion was due on
December 20, 2016. (Docket No. 13). Attorney Parr, however,
did not respond to the motion on behalf of Mr. Myers;
instead, he informed the Court on January 3, 2017 that there
was no opposition to it. Accordingly, on January 3, 2017, the
Court signed AutoZone's proposed order that was attached
to its motion, adding handwritten language reflecting the
Court's discussion with Attorney Parr. (Docket No. 20).
Said order dismissed Mr. Myers' hostile work environment
claims, with prejudice, and struck all
allegations relating to same, including paragraphs 18 and 19
of the first amended complaint. (Id.). The order also
dismissed Mr. Myers' retaliation claims, with prejudice,
and struck all allegations relating to same, including
paragraph 20 of the first amended complaint.
(Id.). Finally, the order required that Mr. Myers
file a second amended complaint by January 23, 2017.
Myers, through Attorney Parr, filed the second amended
complaint on January 23, 2017. (Docket No. 21). The second
amended complaint not only asserted a claim for failure to
promote, but also asserted claims for retaliation and hostile
work environment, which the Court had just dismissed, with
prejudice. (Id.). As such, on February 3, 2017,
AutoZone filed another motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)
and brief in support. (Docket Nos. 23, 24). In addition to
seeking dismissal of the retaliation and hostile work
environments claims, AutoZone contended that the Court should
dismiss “any potential race discrimination claims based
on … discharge because Plaintiff has
now had three opportunities to identify whether he is
asserting such claims” but has only claimed that his
termination was due to retaliation. (Docket No. 24 at 2, 5)
(emphasis added). Thus, in its proposed order, AutoZone
sought to have the Court “dismiss all of
Plaintiff's claims, with prejudice, except for the Title
VII race discrimination claim based on a failure to promote
him to a full-time, non-management position within 300 days
from the filing of his EEOC charge.” (Docket No. 23-1).
the nature of the issues and repeated motions practice, the
Court scheduled oral argument on the motion to be combined
with a case management conference set for March 28, 2017.
(Docket Nos. 28, 29). Thereafter, Mr. Myers, through Attorney
Parr, responded to AutoZone's motion to dismiss on March
2, 2017, conceding the dismissal of the retaliation and
hostile work environment counts and confirming that
“the primary and now limited issue pending before this
Court is whether the Defendant's consistent failure to
promote the Plaintiff to a full time, non-management position
for which he was clearly qualified was based upon the
Plaintiff's race and thus a Title VII violation.”
(Docket No. 30 at ¶¶ 5, 6). Based on Mr. Myers'
response, the Court entered an order on the same date
dismissing the retaliation and hostile work environment
claims in the second amended complaint, with prejudice.
(Docket No. 32). Notably, however, the Court did not enter
AutoZone's proposed order dismissing all of Mr.
Myers' unasserted claims, including the wrongful
discharge claim, with prejudice. Nevertheless, the parties
stated in their Rule 26(f) Report dated March 13, 2017 that
“the only issue that remains is whether Plaintiff's
Title VII failure to promote race discrimination claims are
limited to promotion decisions within 300 days of when he
filed his EEOC charge.” (Docket No. 33 at ¶ 5).
Court held the combined motion hearing/case management
conference on March 28, 2017. (Docket No. 36). At this
proceeding, the Court took AutoZone's motion under
advisement but informed the parties that it was likely to
deny the motion. (Id.). The Court then proceeded to
enter a case management order and an order referring the
parties to participate in a mediation with the Hon. Eugene F.
Scanlon, Jr. (Dockets Nos. 38, 39). Later that day,
AutoZone's counsel, Tracy E. Kern, Esq., informed the
Court that the parties reached a verbal agreement to settle
the case and that she would inform the Court as soon as the
agreement is signed. (Staff Note from 3/28/2017). In any
event, on March 31, 2017, the Court issued its Memorandum
Opinion & Order denying AutoZone's motion to dismiss.
(Docket No. 40). Therein, the Court noted that Mr. Myers'
“sole remaining claim” - that is, Count I of the
second amended complaint for failure to promote - needed to
be developed through discovery. (Id.).
April 6, 2017, the Court administratively closed the case
because counsel for the parties contacted the Court and
advised that the case was resolved. (Docket No.
41). But, when Myers was presented with the
memorialized agreement a few days later, he refused to sign
it because it contained a general release, which Mr. Myers
claimed he did not authorize.
on May 26, 2017, AutoZone filed the pending motion to enforce
settlement and brief in support. (Docket Nos. 42, 43). On
June 12, 2017, Attorney Parr filed a response to the motion
to enforce on Mr. Myers' behalf, (Docket No. 45), and
AutoZone filed a reply on June 19, 2017. (Docket No. 47). On
July 10, 2017, the Court held a hearing and oral argument on
AutoZone's motion to enforce. (Docket No. 56). At this
hearing, AutoZone's counsel, with permission from the
Court, appeared telephonically. AutoZone presented no
evidence. Mr. Myers, however, stated under oath that he
explicitly informed Attorney Parr that he would settle this
case only if it did not affect his wrongful discharge claim
that was pending in the EEOC. (Hr'g Tr. from 7/10/2017 at
pp. 13-14). Mr. Myers also asserted that his text
message communications with Attorney Parr would confirm that
he did not agree to the general release; however, neither Mr.
Myers nor Attorney Parr retained the messages. The Court
informed the parties that it would take judicial notice of
the pending EEOC charge and would contact the EEOC
investigator to review the file. Moreover, at the same
hearing, the Court granted Attorney Parr's motion to
withdraw as Mr. Myers' counsel, and entered an order to
the same effect the next day. (Docket No. 57). Since that
July 10, 2017 hearing and argument, Mr. Myers has been
proceeding herein pro se.
August 14, 2017, the Court ordered that the parties forward
it a copy of Mr. Myers' EEOC file, as the EEOC
representative advised that he was not authorized to provide
same directly to the Court. (Docket No. 58). The next day,
AutoZone filed a copy of Mr. Myers' third charge of
discrimination and AutoZone's response to same. (Docket
No. 59). Additionally, on August 21, 2017, Mr. Myers had his
EEOC file docketed by the Clerk's Office; in the same
filing, he also requested that ...