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Sardeye v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

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

September 10, 2019

WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, et al., Defendants.

          Eli J. Richardson, Judge



         Plaintiff Fadumo Sardeye alleges that Defendants Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, and Walmart Inc. (collectively, “Walmart”) discriminated against her when she worked at their Knoxville, Tennessee store in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (Doc. No. 1.) Now before the Court is Walmart's motion to transfer venue to the Eastern District of Tennessee for the convenience of the parties under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (Doc. No. 18), to which Sardeye has responded in opposition (Doc. No. 20). For the reasons that follow, the motion to transfer will be denied.[1]

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background [2]

         Sardeye, who is a devout Muslim, worked at Walmart store number 1561 in Memphis, Tennessee (the Memphis store), from 1999 until 2014. (Doc. No. 1.) During those fifteen years, Walmart accommodated her religious practices by excusing her from working in the grocery department or as a cashier so that she did not have to handle alcohol or pork products and allowing her to use vacation days to observe certain religious holidays. (Id.) In 2014, Sardeye decided to move to Knoxville, where her daughters lived. (Id.) Before moving, she visited Walmart store number 2065 in Knoxville (the Knoxville store) and spoke with a human resources representative. (Id.) Sardeye explained the restrictions on her work necessitated by her religious beliefs, explained how the Memphis store had accommodated those restrictions for many years, and asked if the Knoxville store would similarly accommodate her if she transferred her employment. (Id.) The representative said that it would be “no problem” for the Knoxville store to accommodate Sardeye in the same ways that the Memphis store had done. (Id. at PageID# 3, ¶ 20.)

         Sardeye began working at the Knoxville store in October 2014. (Doc. No. 1.) Despite the assurance that it would be no problem to accommodate her religious restrictions, Sardeye soon encountered difficulties. For example, Sardeye was promoted to a team of workers responsible for restocking shelves in the general goods and grocery departments, even though her religious restrictions prohibited her from handling groceries. (Id.) Sardeye reminded her supervisors of this restriction, and they allowed her to stock only general goods. (Id.) But Sardeye's “coworkers became hostile and intimidating to [her] because of the fact that they had to stock in the grocery department and general goods departments” while she only stocked general goods. (Id. at PageID# 4, ¶ 26.) Rather than addressing her coworkers' behavior directly, Knoxville store manager Willie Vestal encouraged Sardeye to quit her team assignment. (Doc. No. 1.) Sardeye refused. (Id.) Her coworkers continued to complain and harass her about her religious accommodation, telling Sardeye “that she should act like her ‘Iraqi Muslim' coworkers, who did handle pork products and alcohol.” (Id. at PageID# 5, ¶ 28.)

         In April 2016, Vestal called Sardeye to his office, “demanded that she bring [him] textual proof from the Quran that she could not touch pork products or alcohol[, ]” and told her that she would not be allowed to return to work until she did so. (Id. at PageID# 5, ¶ 29.) Sardeye complained to “the Market Human Resources Manager, Charlotte Boyd, who ultimately sided with Mr. Vestal and confirmed that [Sardeye] needed to submit paperwork in support of her religious restrictions.” (Id. at PageID# 5, ¶ 30.) Sardeye wrote a letter to Walmart's corporate office and its global ethics department “detailing the discriminatory actions that [she] was facing from her store management” and “assert[ing] her rights under Title VII[.]” (Id. at PageID# 5, ¶ 31.) In response, Walmart's corporate office sent an investigator to the Knoxville store. (Doc. No. 1.) The investigator verbally reprimanded the store managers, who promised to accommodate Sardeye's religious restrictions. (Id.)

         Sardeye continued to experience discriminatory treatment. The Knoxville store reduced her work hours and frequently assigned her to work alone, without support. (Id.) She also experienced scheduling issues. (Id.) In 2017, Sardeye took approved vacation days to observe Ramadan. (Id.) On the day before she returned to work, Walmart called her to confirm that she should resume her normal shift from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Id.) But when she arrived at work the next day, she found that she had not been added back to the schedule. (Id.) This continued for several weeks, and each day her managers had to manually override the Walmart employee scheduling system to allow Sardeye to work. (Id.) Eventually, Sardeye was added back to the schedule, but the system indicated that she was to work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of her usual shifts from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Id.) Sardeye asked her supervisor what her schedule was, and he instructed her to work from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. regardless of what the scheduling system said. (Id.) After several days of working from 4 a.m. until 1 p.m., Sardeye noticed that the scheduling system had marked her as absent for the days she had worked. (Id.) She spoke to her managers about this, and they promised her that the absences were a mistake and would be fixed. (Id.)

         Sardeye continued to work full shifts from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. as instructed by her managers. (Id.) But because Walmart's attendance system showed her schedule as 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., the system recorded an early departure every day that she left at 1 p.m. and assigned her “a 0.5 attendance point[.]” (Id. at PageID# 7, ¶ 39.) Sardeye also received a full 1.0 attendance point for taking a day off to observe Eid al-Adha, a religious holiday, even though Walmart had approved the absence. (Doc. No. 1.) On November 15, 2017, Walmart fired Sardeye because she had accrued 11 attendance points. (Id.) Sardeye maintains that all of these points were unwarranted. (Id.) Despite company policy requiring Walmart to coach employees who accrue 9 attendance points- providing them with an opportunity to correct mistakenly recorded absences or to correct their own behavior before reaching 11 points-Walmart did not provide Sardeye the required coaching before terminating her employment. (Id.)

         Sardeye was not able to find comparable work in Knoxville, and she now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. (Id.)

         B. Procedural History

         Sardeye filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on or around February 8, 2018. (Doc. No. 1-2.) The EEOC mailed Sardeye a right-to-sue letter on August 14, 2018. (Doc. No. 1-3.) Sardeye initiated this action on November 7, 2018, alleging that Walmart discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of Title VII. (Doc. No. 1.) She seeks a declaratory judgment as well as compensatory and punitive damages. (Id.)

         Walmart answered Sardeye's complaint (Doc. No. 15) and filed a motion to transfer venue (Doc. No. 18). Walmart does not dispute that Title VII's broad venue provision allows Sardeye to bring suit in this district. (Doc. No. 19.) Instead, Walmart argues that transfer to the Eastern District of Tennessee is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice. (Id.) Sardeye disagrees, ...

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