United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.
Defendant MAPCO Express, Inc. ("MAPCO") has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 36), to which the plaintiff has filed a Response in partial opposition (Docket No. 45), and the defendant has filed a Reply (Docket No. 46). For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted in part and denied part.
Bondwe is an African-American male who was originally born in Malawi, a country in southeast Africa. He was employed by MAPCO from December 2005 through July 15, 2011, when MAPCO terminated him. In his Amended Complaint, Bondwe claimed that, in violation of Title VII, MAPCO (1) created a hostile work environment, (2) failed to promote him because of his race or national origin, and (3) terminated him on the basis of race or national origin. The court granted MAPCO's motion to dismiss the hostile work environment claim. (Docket No. 26.) MAPCO has moved for summary judgment on the remaining failure to promote and discrimination claims. Bondwe concedes that MAPCO is entitled to summary judgment on his failure to promote claim. ( See Docket No. 45, Attach. No. 2, Memorandum, at p. 16.) Therefore, the court will grant summary judgment to MAPCO on that claim, and the court will address only Bondwe's remaining Title VII discrimination claim.
Aside from some basic details about the progression of events, the parties dispute most of the pertinent facts in the case. Having examined the record, the court agrees with many of the plaintiffs' objections to the purportedly "undisputed" facts set forth by MAPCO, many of which are not fully supported by the referenced citations or that cherry-pick only favorable testimony from an otherwise muddled record. Where the facts are subject to a genuine dispute, the court has construed the facts in the light most favorable to Bondwe.
A. Bondwe's Work History and Performance at the Hendersonville Store
Bondwe originally worked at a "BP"-branded convenience store in Hendersonville, Tennessee. In December 2005, MAPCO purchased the store and hired Bondwe to continue working there, before transferring him to a store in East Nashville. At some point, the East Nashville location closed, and, on December 23, 2010, Division Manager Damian Wyatt and District Manager Steve Adcox decided to have Bondwe continue to work for MAPCO as a "floating" manager, filling in for managers at multiple locations as needed.
On January 14, 2011, MAPCO transferred Bondwe to manage a store in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where the Store Manager, Theresa Tornquist, was out on family medical leave. During Tornquist's absence, Bondwe served as the acting Store Manager. On February 21, 2011, Tornquist returned from leave and resumed her role as Store Manager. Bondwe continued working at the store with Tornquist as a "Co-Manager." There is inconsistent testimony in the record about the respective roles of Bondwe and Tornquist upon her return. Construing the record in the light most favorable to Bondwe, he and Tornquist both managed the store upon her return and operated as "equals, " sharing responsibility for the store's operation. On some days, Bondwe worked a 6:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift, in which he opened the store, ordered products, completed daily paperwork, and secured and counted the lottery tickets (a process referred to as a "lottery audit"). On most days when Bondwe opened the store, Tornquist would work from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., leaving her as the only manager on duty after Bondwe left in the afternoon. On some occasions, including weekends, Tornquist (not Bondwe) worked the early shift, including opening the store, completing daily paperwork, and conducting the lottery audit. Bondwe and Tornquist both reported to District Manager Adcox, who reported to Division Manager Wyatt.
Adcox visited the Hendersonville store about once per week. At deposition, Adcox testified that, while Bondwe managed the store, its general cleanliness, organization, and stock levels were not up to par. Adcox also testified that Tornquist informed him that Bondwe was showing up late and leaving early and that Bondwe had other performance issues. Although Adcox testified to forming these impressions, he never independently verified whether Bondwe was showing up late or leaving early, and no one at MAPCO (including Adcox) ever documented any concern with Bondwe's performance before his termination. Adcox also testified that he would not have terminated Bondwe for tardiness alone, unless he had first coached and counseled Bondwe and the problem became "habitual." At any rate, Adcox discussed concerns about store conditions with Bondwe and Tornquist together. (Bondwe Dep. at 64:13-18).
Tornquist also testified that she had concerns with Bondwe's performance when they managed the store. She believed that, at times, he left work "early with the job undone" and that, on at least one occasion, he had shown up late to work. She also believed that he made frequent mistakes concerning store orders, which often caused the store to run out of products during the week. According to Tornquist, "[h]e wasn't putting his whole head or effort into the job completely, trying to rush everything to get out before everything is done." Tornquist reported her concerns to Adcox over the course of several months. Nevertheless, according to Bondwe, he could not recall receiving any counseling or complaints from Tornquist about his performance. Tornquist also testified that, because she believed that she and Bondwe held equivalent positions, she did not have the authority to coach or counsel Bondwe and never did so. Bondwe admits that, on occasion, he left work early to attend classes at Tennessee State University, from which he received a Bachelor's degree in May 2011.
At the time Bondwe received his degree, Adcox did not have a college degree. Bondwe contends that his relationship with Adcox changed after he (Bondwe) received the degree from TSU.
Bondwe testified that, at some point before his termination, Adcox made abusive or racist statements to him or about him. Bondwe testified that Adcox told him to "get the f____ out here" when Adcox wanted to see him in the store and that Adcox routinely said "damn it man" when speaking to Bondwe. Bondwe found both types of comments to be verbally abusive. Also, during a visit by Adcox to the Hendersonville store, Adcox and Tornquist spoke about shortages at a different MAPCO store. Tornquist asked Adcox why that other ...