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O'Connor v. J.C. Penney Corp.

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

May 29, 2018

JOYANN ROETT O'CONNOR, Plaintiff,
v.
J.C. PENNEY CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PRO'CTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc. (“JC Penney” or “Defendant”). (Doc. # 40). The Motion is fully briefed, and the parties have filed evidentiary submissions. (Docs. # 40, 41, 43, 44, 45). After careful review, the court concludes that the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 40) is due to be granted.

         I. Relevant Undisputed Facts[1]

         On December 29, 2014, Plaintiff, who is African-American, visited JC Penney's store in Alabaster, Alabama. (Docs. # 7 at ¶ 4; 21 at ¶ 4; 40 at ¶ 3). Plaintiff claims that, during this visit, she requested to have her head shaved at JC Penney's salon but was denied this service on the basis of her race. (Docs. # 41-1 at p. 10; 41-2 at p. 2). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that she had the following conversation with white salon employee Amber Smith (“Smith”), who was working at the front counter of the salon:

[Amber] said, “We don't do African-American hair, it's a little hard, go somewhere else. You can go somewhere down the street and they may be able to help your hair. We don't have any person here to do your hair.” And, [Plaintiff] said, “Why can't you shave my hair off?” And [Amber] said, “We don't deal with the ‘N' word.”

(Doc. # 41-1 at p. 11). No. one else witnessed this conversation. (Id.).

         That same day, following this alleged conversation, Plaintiff spoke with manager Autumn Spraggins (“Spraggins”), who is African-American, to complain about Smith. (Docs. # 32 at p. 1; 41-1 at p. 12). After speaking with Spraggins, Plaintiff returned to the salon to determine Smith's name, and Smith offered to shave Plaintiff's hair. (Docs. # 41-1 at p. 23; 41-2 at p. 2). Plaintiff refused Smith's offer to shave Plaintiff's hair and left the store (although no one from JC Penney asked Plaintiff to leave). (Doc. # 41-1 at p. 21, 23-24).

         On December 27, 2016, Plaintiff, who is appearing pro se, filed her initial complaint against Defendant. (Doc. # 1). Following an initial review, the court identified deficiencies in Plaintiff's complaint and directed her to file an amended complaint. (Doc. # 4). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on January 24, 2017. (Doc. # 5). After reviewing the amended complaint, the court directed Plaintiff to file a second amended complaint to remedy additional deficiencies. (Doc. # 6). On February 9, 2017, Plaintiff submitted her second amended complaint which alleges that (1) Defendant violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by acting with discriminatory intent towards her and (2) she suffered emotional and mental anguish from Defendant's conduct.[2] (Doc. # 7 at ¶¶ 11, 12). The court considers Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 40), in turn.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56 requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and -- by pointing to affidavits, or depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or admissions on file -- designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

         The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. See Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir. 2007); Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See Id. at 249.

         When faced with a “properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the non-moving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). As Anderson teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on his allegations made in the complaint; instead, as the party bearing the burden of proof at trial, he must come forward with at least some evidence to support each element essential to his case at trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 248 (citations omitted).

         Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative.” Sawyer v. Sw. Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1262 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 ...


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