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Myrick v. Publix Super Markets, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

May 31, 2017

MYRA MYRICK, Plaintiff,


          ALETA A. TRAUGER, United States District Judge

         The defendant, Publix Super Markets, Inc. (“Publix”), has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 25), to which the plaintiff has filed a Response in Opposition (Docket No. 41), and Publix has filed a Reply (Docket No. 48). For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.


         The plaintiff, Myra Myrick, was employed by the defendant, Publix, in various capacities for eight years. By all accounts, Ms. Myrick's work at Publix exceeded expectations and garnered her good performance reviews. Moreover, according to Ms. Myrick, she was happy at Publix and “truly enjoyed [her] job . . . [r]ight up until the last day [she] worked.” (Docket No. 46-1 (Depo. M. Myrick), 26:14-21, 46:17-18.) Nevertheless, Ms. Myrick tendered her resignation to Publix on August 11, 2015, allegedly because she had been subjected by her manager to harassment on the basis of her religion and “forced . . . to work in a hostile environment that no reasonable person would tolerate.” (Docket No. 1 ¶¶ 16-18.) In the pending action, Ms. Myrick alleges that Publix created and permitted the existence of a hostile work environment, which resulted in her constructive discharge, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. (Id. ¶ 3, p. 5.)

         Ms. Myrick was initially hired by Publix in March of 2007 and, in her first four years of employment with the company, held a variety of positions, including cashier, price scan clerk, and customer service staff. In 2011, Ms. Myrick was transferred to a Publix store in Gallatin, Tennessee to work as a direct store delivery (“DSD”) Inventory Clerk. As a DSD Inventory Clerk, Ms. Myrick was primarily responsible for receiving and verifying the quantity of product delivered by suppliers to, or credited out from, the store. Her typical duties included tasks such as scanning product when it arrived at the store, ensuring that counts of incoming and outgoing product were accurate, and ensuring that the area where deliveries were made remained clean and organized. The job description for DSD Inventory Clerk does not list any minimum physical requirements for the position, but its day-to-day duties do appear to require some light lifting.

         I. Ms. Myrick Is Allegedly Subjected to Harassment on the Basis of Her Religion.

         Ms. Myrick alleges that she was subjected to harassment on the basis of her religion by her manager, Robb Steiner, who became Grocery Manager at the Publix store in Gallatin, Tennessee in April of 2013. It appears that Ms. Myrick had no issues with Mr. Steiner until after November of 2014, when Mr. Steiner attended a faith-based retreat - called an “Encounter Training” - in Brentwood, Tennessee. After Mr. Steiner attended this retreat, Ms. Myrick alleges that he began to talk about the Encounter Training and religion “constantly while he was at work.” (Docket No. 41, pp. 8-9 (citing Docket No. 41-2 (Decl. M. Myrick) ¶ 3).)[2]Ms. Myrick acknowledges that Mr. Steiner never said anything to her that was “threatening” (Docket No. 46-1, 177:22-178:4), but she claims to have been intimidated by Mr. Steiner's conduct to the point that she felt that she “could not refuse to attend his religious seminar, ” (Docket No. 41, pp. 8-9 (citing Docket No. 46-1, 163:2-17)). Additionally, Ms. Myrick alleges that she felt that Mr. Steiner “belittled” her religion because he asked her, “Why do you drive all the way to Murfreesboro to go to church?” (Docket No. 46-1, 178:5-10.)

         As Ms. Myrick herself admits, however, she typically had “very little interaction” with Mr. Steiner in 2015. (Id. at 83:5-24 (“Q: In the 2015 time frame, in a given week of your workweek, . . . how many hours or minutes a week would you spend actually interacting with your direct supervisor? . . . A: Very little.”).) Moreover, Ms. Myrick was asked to identify “everything that Robb Steiner did or said that [she] fe[lt] created a hostile work environment based on religion” in her deposition (id. at 153:23-25), and she identified the following incidents:

1. In January or February of 2015, Mr. Steiner shared with Ms. Myrick how he felt his life had changed after attending the Encounter Training. (Id. at 153:12-22.)
2. In mid-January of 2015, Mr. Steiner “strongly encourage[d]” Ms. Myrick to attend the Encounter Training and told her that he could have the enrollment fee waived for her. (Id. at 154:1-11, 158:4-14.)
3. In January or February of 2015, Mr. Steiner informed Ms. Myrick that one of their co-workers would be attending the Encounter Training and suggested that Ms. Myrick also attend. He also talked about the training “like it was just the end all and be all.” Ms. Myrick declined the invitation. (Id. at 154:12-21, 159:2-20.)
4. In July of 2015, Mr. Steiner strongly encouraged Ms. Myrick to attend the Encounter Training, because “it would help [her] better deal with people in [her] everyday life and at work.” He then encouraged Ms. Myrick to speak to a co-worker who had attended the training about “how much it's . . . enlightened her.” (Id. at 155:3-11; 156:7-11, 159:21-160:7.)
5. In late July of 2015, Mr. Steiner gave Ms. Myrick a business card for the Encounter Training, once in person and once by leaving the card on her desk. The business cards contained the date of the next training and a website address. At a gathering of Publix employees on July 24, 2015, Mr. Steiner told Ms. Myrick and others that the Encounter Training “was a real eye-opener on how to deal with people in his everyday life.” (Id. at 155:20-25, 156:23-157:7, 161:13-162:2.)
6. On August 8, 2015, Mr. Steiner walked the length of several aisles of the store with Ms. Myrick while she worked, asking her whether she attended a church and encouraging her to attend his church. According to Ms. Myrick, Mr. Steiner told her that she “needed to get [her] heart right with God” and asked if she knew “where [she's] going to go when [she] die[s].” After two or three minutes of this “religious lecture, ” Ms. Myrick told Mr. Steiner to “get the hell away” from her. Mr. Steiner laughed in response and then “left [her] alone.” (Id. at 160:8-161:12; Docket No. 47 ¶¶ 63-64.)

         After Ms. Myrick described these six incidents in her deposition, she confirmed that she had recounted “each and every instance of anyone at Publix creating a hostile work environment.” (Docket No. 46-1, 162:3-7.)

         II. Mr. Steiner's Conduct Allegedly Interferes with Ms. Myrick's ...

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