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Beasley v. Lowe's Home Centers, Inc

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 3, 2017

ERIC BEASLEY
v.
LOWE'S HOME CENTERS, INC., MARGARET MILLER, MICHAEL MEDICO, and UNNAMED LOWE'S EMPLOYEES

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Eric Beasley worked in the plumbing department at Lowe's Home Center in North Weymouth, Massachusetts for approximately three years. From May of 2011, until he submitted his resignation on June 17, 2012, Beasley claims that he was “subjected to a campaign of racial slurs, repeated threats to kill him, humiliating retaliation for availing himself of Family and Medical Leave benefits, . . . repeated race discrimination . . . and adverse employment actions in retaliation for his discrimination complaints.” Pl.'s Opp'n at 1-2. Beasley filed a charge of discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in 2012. He filed this Complaint on June 19, 2015. The Complaint asserts seven claims against Lowe's, Margaret Miller (a Lowe's human resources manager), and Michael Medico (Beasley's former supervisor). They are: Race Discrimination (Count I); violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (Count II); violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA) (Count III); Interference with Advantageous Contractual Relations (Count IV); Defamation (Count V); Retaliation in violation of Federal Title VII and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (Count VI), and Outrage/Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count VII). Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims, arguing that they are time-barred, lacking in factual support, and improperly pled. The court heard oral argument on the motion on April 20, 2017.

         BACKGROUND

         Beasley's Complaint contains twelve pages of tenebrous allegations largely untethered to dates or context (the Opposition Memorandum is of little help in deciphering the claims). As best as can be discerned from the hodgepodge of pleadings and exhibits, the facts are as follows. Beasley began working for Lowe's, a national retailer of home improvement products, in October of 2009, as a “Plumbing Pro.” In June of 2010, he was promoted to the position of “Sales Specialist.” Defendant Medico became his supervisor.

         On two occasions in early May of 2011, Beasley found threatening messages (“You're gonna die”) in his locker in the break room. On May 19, 2011, someone placed an offensive note in his locker (“you're a n****r - U haitian n****r”), followed by a drawing of a monkey's head. Around the same time, a “racist” drawing was found in the employee's restroom (which an African-American co-worker, Julius Frank, believed was directed at him). Sometime thereafter, Beasley received a threatening telephone call while at work in the plumbing department.[1] Beasley reported some of these incidents to defendant Miller, the store's human resources manager. Miller undertook an investigation, interviewing Beasley and several other employees. Miller noted that Beasley “was very upset . . . . Does not know anyone who would do this, gets along with everyone. No one has been treating him any differently. Does not know anyone having a problem with Julius [Frank] who would take it out on him.” Miller was unable to identify a perpetrator, and the incidents stopped. (That is, in May of 2011). Beasley Dep. 103.

         In the fall of 2011, Beasley was approved to take FMLA leave. According to Beasley, prior to his return, Medico told other employees that Beasley needed to get back to work or he would lose his job.[2] Beasley Dep. at 13-15. Beasley returned to work on October 12, 2011, as planned. On November 26, 2011, Beasley requested a work accommodation from Miller, namely to be exempted from heavy lifting and allowed to sit every ninety minutes. Miller granted the request and agreed to re-assess Beasley's physical condition in 30 days. See Defs.' Ex. L.

         Beasley claims that sometime in October of 2011, Medico called him a “stupid n****r.”[3] Beasley Dep. at 40-41. Beasley informed Miller of Medico's use of a racial epithet. (Medico denies making any offensive statement). Beasley avers that Medico retaliated by subjecting him to “a relentless campaign of racial harassment.” Compl. ¶ 12. Beasley states that in April of 2012, a co-worker (Steve Coyne) told him that he “had a bull's-eye on [his] back” and that Medico was trying to get rid of him.[4] Compl. ¶ 13; Beasley Dep. at 64-66. Beasley alleges that Medico ordered him “do things out of [his] job title such as cutting wood, ” and complained (gratuitously) about the appearance of the plumbing department shelves. Id. at 111-118. Beasley also alleges that when he took three days from work to take a stress test in “March or April of 2012, ” Medico told co-workers Steve Coyne and Andlee Cribb that Beasley's medical condition was “faked.”[5] Compl. ¶ 11; Beasley Dep. at 59. Finally, Beasley complains that Miller refused him permission to trade a work day in May or June of 2012 so that he could attend a NBA basketball game.[6]

         Beasley's personnel file at Lowe's contains two written warnings - one for his failure to complete inventory replenishment sheets; the other a warning for poor attendance. These were written up in October and November of 2010. The file also contains nine commendations for job performance awarded between December of 2011 and May of 2012.[7] On March 3, 2012, Beasley received an increase in pay.

         Offering Miller “and the company all the best, ” Beasley submitted a letter of resignation to Miller on June 17, 2012, telling her that “resigning from [his] position at Lowe's . . . was not an easy decision. . . . The several years [he had] been at Lowe's had been very rewarding and he had enjoyed representing Lowe's, ” but Lowe's had not “treated him fairly” during the final three months of his employment.

         Lowe's and Beasley's accounts of the circumstances of his resignation differ, although in nonmaterial respects. Beasley states that his resignation effectively amounted to a constructive discharge because he had become uncomfortable at the prospect of remaining at Lowe's. He also claims (somewhat inconsistently) that Miller warned him that he would likely be impacted by an anticipated layoff, and that by resigning, he would improve his chances of being recalled. Miller agrees that she told Beasley of the expected layoff, but states that Beasley told her that he had plans to move to Atlanta to care for his ill sister. His question whether if he did so, Lowe's would be willing to take him back, prompted her advice regarding a letter of resignation.[8]

         Beasley left Lowe's on July 1, 2012, and applied for unemployment benefits. Lowe's (it is unclear from the record whether it was Miller or an Ernst and Young employee, Kim Pistole) told the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) that Beasley had “quit” his job. Although Beasley was initially denied unemployment benefits, he appealed and DUA reversed course, after finding that he had “left work for good cause attributable to the employer or for an urgent, compelling, and necessitous reason which rendered his separation involuntary.”[9] DUA Dec. at 2 (Dkt #43-3 at 31); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151A, § 25C(2). Beasley states that he looked for other employment for nearly a year, but that at least one of his applications was rejected because of “an untrue negative reference from Lowe's.”[10]Eventually, he found a job at Walmart.

         Beasley filed a charge of discrimination with the MCAD on December 10, 2012. Pursuant to a work-sharing agreement, the charge was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). App. at 4-8 (Charge). On June 19, 2015, Beasley brought this action and notified the MCAD that he was withdrawing the charge. The MCAD dismissed the charge on December 18, 2015.

         After completion of discovery, Lowe's filed this motion for summary judgment, asserting that Beasley has failed to administratively and factually support his claims of ...


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