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Hayes v. Lowes Home Improvement, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

October 23, 2014

RONALD HAYES, Plaintiff,


G.R. SMITH, Magistrate Judge.

In this employment discrimination case against Lowes Home Improvement, LLC, ex-store manager Ronald Hayes moves to compel Lowes to disclose financial data, contending that it is relevant to his race and retaliation claims. Doc. 40. Lowes opposes. Doc. 41. Some background: For some ten years Lowes recognized Hayes' good performance until, he alleges, racial tension arose from two subordinates who referred to him as the "HNIC" - "head nigger in charge." Doc. 40-1 at 1.[1] A few months after Hayes reported that to management, "someone hung nooses in his store on two occasions." Id. Two months after that, his manager "decided [Hayes'] career was finished." Id. Trivial gripes about Hayes were thus dredged up and used to ratify his pretextual termination. Id.

Hayes thus "asserts claims against [Lowes] for discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Section 1981') and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII')." Doc. 1 (Complaint) at 1. On his race-based discrimination claim Hayes must show that Lowes treated non-minority managers more favorably - for race-based reasons.[2] Lowes denies that occurred and insists it terminated Hayes for "inappropriate and unprofessional behavior in connection with his leadership and his interactions with his subordinates." Doc. 41 at 2; see also id. at 3-4 (excerpting a performance report's termination reasons).

In fact, Lowes has just moved for summary judgment motion, doc. 43, evidently in pursuit of a result like that found in Brown v. Jacobs Engineering, Inc., 572 F.App'x 750, 752-53 (11th Cir. 2014) (white, male managers identified by African-American, female employee were not similarly situated to her in either quantity or quality of misconduct, precluding finding of disparate treatment to support her race and sex discrimination claims against her former employer under Title VII and § 1981; employer's investigators concluded that employee had created "dreadful" work environment, her management style had caused high turnover in her department, she was subject of at least two meritorious formal complaints, and she had detrimental effect on employer as a whole, while purported comparators were not subject to any formal complaints, and their misconduct, if any, did not cause similar problem).

Based on the evidentiary showing Hayes must make, see supra n. 1, as well as the liberal relevancy standards for discovery, [3] he correctly notes in his briefs the financial data's unmistakable relevancy: Through financial data showing that he ran his store effectively, he can negate Lowe's "poor performance" termination reason: "Although it is not true in every instance that good store performance equates to good management, a reasonable person could draw that inference. If the jury saw such evidence [i.e., of his store's financial results favorably compared to white-managed stores' results], then the proposed reason for Hayes's termination that he struggled to effectively manage his employees would be drawn into serious question. Plaintiff [therefore] is entitled to obtain evidence of the stores' performance because it [would] cast doubt on Defendant's alleged legitimate reasons for termination." Doc 42 at 2.

Hayes, however, completely misses the judicial admission [4] in Lowes' response brief: "Lowe's has repeatedly stated that the financial performance of... the store Plaintiff managed at the time of his termination[] was as good as or better than other stores in the [relevant geographic] Market.... Simply put, this case is not about whether Plaintiff was able to meet the financial goals for the stores he managed. Plaintiff seeks documents and information regarding a matter that is not in dispute and which is not relevant given the facts of the case." Doc. 41 at 2 (emphasis added).

If anything, Lowes has just done Hayes a favor by sparing him document and data collection expenses, along with the cost of analyzing that data. Again, Hayes wants the market data to show that he performed his duties well, if not better than his comparators. That, in turn, will discredit Lowe's adverse-performance reason for his discharge. Id. at 2. But since he cannot realistically show more than what Lowes has just admitted, the Court DENIES his motion to compel. Doc. 40.


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