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Carroll v. Office Depot, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

October 17, 2014

DEWAYNE CARROLL, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICE DEPOT, INC., Defendant

Page 1283

For DeWayne Carroll, Plaintiff: Cynthia F Wilkinson, WILKINSON LAW FIRM PC, Birmingham, AL; Larry R Mann, Birmingham, AL.

For Office Depot Inc, Defendant: Jay D St Clair, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brian O Noble, LITTLER MENDELSON PC, Birmingham, AL.

Page 1284

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff DeWayne Carroll is a former employee of defendant Office Depot. Mr. Carroll is African American and is legally blind because of a hereditary eye condition. Mr. Carroll began working for Office Depot in 1993. Initially, he was a stocker. Office Depot promoted him to the position of department manager in 2005.[1] Five years later, Mr. Carroll applied for the position of assistant store manager. Office Depot did not promote Mr. Carroll. Instead, Office Depot hired Darren DeLoach, a white, non-disabled male who had not previously worked for Office Depot. Mr. Carroll claims that Office Depot decided not to promote him either because of his

Page 1285

disability or because of his race. On the basis of this conduct, Mr. Carroll asserts claims against Office Depot for disability and race discrimination.

Mr. Carroll also contends that Office Depot violated the Family Medical Leave Act. In May of 2011, Mr. Carroll took a leave of absence for the birth of his child. He alleges that when he returned from leave, Office Depot reassigned him from the technology area of the store in which he worked to the less-desirable office supplies area. Mr. Carroll asserts that the reassignment violated his right under the FMLA to be restored to the position he held when he went on FMLA leave.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Office Depot asks the Court to enter judgment in the company's favor on Mr. Carroll's ADA, Title VII, § 1981, and FMLA claims. (Doc. 18). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Office Depot's motion for summary judgment.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

" The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite " to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hill v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 510 F.App'x 810, 813 (11th Cir. 2013). " The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

II. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Although the Court has not had the pleasure of meeting him, based on the record, the Court surmises that Mr. Carroll is a remarkable individual. He has a hereditary eye condition that has caused him to be legally blind. (Doc. 20-2, p. 17). As a result, Mr. Carroll is unable to drive, and he must hold documents very close to his face to be able to read. (Doc. 20-2, pp. 17, 121).

Mr. Carroll's visual impairment has not hampered his ability to work. Office Depot hired him in 1993. Initially, Mr. Carroll worked in Office Depot's Festival Shopping Center store. (Doc. 50, p. 12). Sometime after 2007, Office Depot transferred Mr. Carroll to its Eastwood store. Mr. Carroll worked there until 2012. (Doc. 20-3, p. 12; Doc. 50, pp. 17, 22). Mr. Carroll's co-workers and managers were aware of his disability. (Doc. 20-3, p. 19).

Both store managers and Office Depot customers were fond of Mr. Carroll. (Doc. 20-3, p. 39). Mr. Huizinga, the last store manager with whom Mr. Carroll worked, testified that customers would come into the Eastwood store and ask for Mr. Carroll by name. In Mr. Huizinga's experience, this happened with Mr. Carroll more often than with any other Office Depot employee. (Doc. 20-3, p. 39). One of Mr. Carroll's co-workers, Stephanie Davis, stated in an affidavit that she " never heard any employee, manager, customer, or anyone make any negative comments about Mr. Carroll." (Doc. 49-16, p. 2).

During his tenure with Office Depot, Mr. Carroll adapted to many changes in

Page 1286

store management. In fact, during the dozen or so years that Mr. Carroll worked at Office Depot's Festival Shopping Center location, the store management changed an average of once per year. (Doc. 20-3, p. 47). Despite the resulting high rate of employee turnover, Mr. Carroll stayed with the store. (Doc. 20-3, p. 47). In 2007, Alan Chew was the manager of the Festival store. (Doc. 20-2, p. 8; Doc. 20-3, p. 6). On his last day of work at Office Depot, Mr. Chew told Mr. Carroll that Carroll would never be promoted because he was legally blind. (Doc. 20-2, pp. 18-19).

Rob Huizinga replaced Mr. Chew. At some point after Mr. Huizinga became the manager of the Festival store, Office Depot moved the store to a location in the Eastwood area of Birmingham. (Doc. 19, ¶ 6). Mr. Huizinga and Mr. Carroll worked well together at the Eastwood location. Mr. Huizinga was complimentary of Mr. Carroll's leadership qualities, and he wanted to see Mr. Carroll succeed at Office Depot. (Doc. 20-3, pp. 19, 48). In 2008, Mr. Huizinga nominated Mr. Carroll to participate in Office Depot's Store Leadership Curriculum (SLC). (Doc. 20-2, pp. 7-8; Doc. 20-3, p. 31). Home Depot uses the two-week SLC program to identify and assess potential management candidates. (Doc. 20-3, p. 31). While Mr. Carroll participated in the program, Ms. Stacey Monteleone, a member of Office Depot's regional management team, identified areas in which Mr. Carroll needed to improve before the company would consider him for advancement. (Doc. 20-3, p. 32; Doc. 49-2, p. 5).

In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Huizinga ranked Mr. Carroll's overall performance as " Meets Expectations." (Doc. 49-3; Doc. 49-4; Doc. 49-7). Mr. Huizinga's evaluations pointed out strengths and weaknesses in Mr. Carroll's job performance. ( Id.). For example, in 2009 Mr. Carroll received high marks for Inventory Evaluation, Profit, Loss Prevention, Integrity, and Inclusion. (Doc. 49-3, pp. 2, 4-5, 7). He received below-average scores for Sales, Grow Services, and Innovation. (Doc. 49-3, pp. 3, 4, 7, 8). In 2010, Mr. Carroll received high marks for EBITDA, Integrity, and Leadership, and he ...


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