United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
DELIA J. MITCHELL PLAINTIFF
THE TJX COMPANIES, INC. doing business as HOMEGOODS DEFENDANT
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OPINION
SHARION AYCOCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
Mitchell filed suit in this Court on May 9, 2018 against The
TJX Companies, Inc., doing business as HomeGoods, asserting
race discrimination claims under Title VII and Section 1981
and age discrimination claims under the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act in connection with her termination from
HomeGoods on January 18, 2018. Now before the Court is the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment . The issues
are fully briefed and ripe for review.
Plaintiff, a 61-year-old Caucasian female, applied for a
seasonal help position at HomeGoods in Tupelo, Mississippi in
October 2017. HomeGoods hired the Plaintiff effective
November 30, 2017, as a seasonal employee. On January 4, 2018
the Plaintiff had a verbal dispute regarding a work task with
a younger African American co-worker, Aleigha Dominguez.
After the incident, Dominguez reported the verbal dispute to
her manager and informed her manager that she was going home
for the rest of the day because she was so upset.
January 12, 2018, the Plaintiff had a physical altercation
with the same co-worker, Dominguez. The Plaintiff and
Dominguez each provided written statements describing the
incident. According to the Plaintiff, she walked into the
room to retrieve her radio and told Dominguez that she
thought “the Lord brought us together today.”
Id. at 48:23-49:13. In response, Dominguez told the
Plaintiff to “never talk to [her] that way again . . .,
” referring to the January 4 incident. Id. The
Plaintiff maintains that she tried to reason with Dominguez,
but that Dominguez threatened to slap her in the face. The
Plaintiff told Dominguez that she was not afraid of her and
told Dominguez to stop pointing her finger in her face. Since
Dominguez would not stop pointing, the Plaintiff put her
finger in Dominguez's face to show her “how it
felt.” See Plaintiff's statement [44-8].
The Plaintiff states that Dominguez then pushed her
“really hard” and she tried to exit the room, but
Dominguez pushed her against the door. The Plaintiff then
exited the room.
to Dominguez, she was putting away her equipment when the
Plaintiff walked in. See Dominguez statement [44-4].
She planned to ignore the Plaintiff, but the Plaintiff
started talking and did not apologize for the January 4
incident. Dominguez indicates that the Plaintiff knew she was
mad by the look on her face and that she told the Plaintiff
not to disrespected her like she did on January 4. In
response, the Plaintiff told her that she was not scared of
her. Dominguez then put her finger up and the Plaintiff told
her not to put her finger in her face. Dominguez states that
the Plaintiff then pushed her arm down and put her finger in
Dominguez's face. Dominguez maintains that she then
pushed the Plaintiff away from her because she was backed up
against the wall. After that, Dominguez says that the
Plaintiff gave her an ugly look and walked out of the room.
after the physical altercation occurred, Helene Taylor, one
of the assistant managers at the Tupelo HomeGoods store,
contacted Michael Florek, the District Loss Prevention
Manager for the Tupelo store. Florek, who is Caucasian,
reviewed the recording of the January 12 physical altercation
and the written statements taken from the two employees.
After this review, Florek determined that the Plaintiff was
the aggressor in the altercation and that Dominguez had acted
in self-defense. Florek made a recommendation to Kelsey Lott,
the Regional Human Resources Generalist for the Tupelo store,
that HomeGoods terminate the Plaintiff's employment
because she was the aggressor and discipline Dominguez with a
final written warning for her part in the altercation. Lott,
who is Caucasian, did not review the recording but instead
relied upon Florek's written summary and recommendation.
After reviewing Florek's written summary and the
statements collected from the Plaintiff and Dominguez, Lott
agreed with both of Florek's recommendations. HomeGoods
terminated the Plaintiff on January 18, 2018 and issued a
final written warning to Dominguez, both of which were
consistent with HomeGoods policies.
Plaintiff's termination letter, HomeGoods cited
“Improper Behavior” as the reason for her
termination and explained that “Associates are expected
to follow company rules and regulations and act in accordance
with our code of conduct.” See Termination
Document [49-16]. The letter concluded that
“[f]ollowing an investigation into the incident, your
personal actions and conduct were a failure to follow rules
and regulations and therefore result in termination of your
employment.” Id. In Dominguez's written
warning, HomeGoods also identified “Improper
Behavior” as the reason for the warning. The letter
stated that “[f]ollowing an investigation into the
incident, your personal actions and conduct were a failure to
follow rules and regulations. Moving forwards, you will
follow all company rules and regulations. Failure to comply
will result in further disciplinary action, up to and
including dismissal.” See Dominguez
Disciplinary Action [44-12].
submitting a charge of employment discrimination with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Plaintiff filed
the instant suit, alleging that HomeGoods terminated her
because of her race and because of her age. In addition to
actual, punitive, and liquidated damages, the Plaintiff also
judgment is warranted under Rule 56(c) when evidence reveals
no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party moving for summary judgment
bears the initial responsibility of informing the district
court of the basis for its motion and identifying those
portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of
a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d
265 (1986). The non-moving party must then go beyond the
pleadings and designate “specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at
324, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Conclusory allegations, speculation,
unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not
an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine
issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of
Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); SEC v.
Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little
v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).
In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be
resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “but only when . .
. both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory
Plaintiff alleges that her termination was improperly based
on race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 and Title 42 of the United States Code Section 1981.
Under Title VII, it is “an unlawful employment practice
for an employer . . . to discharge any individual, or
otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect
to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment, because of such individual's race, color,
religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-2(a)(1). Race discrimination claims brought under Title
VII and Section 1981 require the same proof to establish
liability and the Plaintiff's race discrimination claims
will be analyzed together under Title VII's framework.
See Criner v. Tex. N.M. Power Co., 470 Fed.Appx.
364, 370 n. 3 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Byers
v. Dall. Morning News, Inc., 209 F.3d 419, 422 n. 1 (5th
of discrimination based on circumstantial evidence, such as
the ones here, are subject to the McDonnell Douglas
burden-shifting framework. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).
The first step of the McDonnell Douglas analysis
requires “[t]he plaintiff [to] establish a prima
facie case that the defendant made an employment
decision that was motivated by a protected factor.”
Mayberry v. Vought Aircraft Co., 55 F.3d 1086, 1089
(5th Cir. 1995); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.
A., 534 U.S. 506, 512, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1
(2002) (noting that “the precise requirements of a
prima facie case can vary depending on the context
and were ‘never intended to be rigid, mechanized, or
ritualistic.'”) (citation omitted). If the
plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the
defendant must then bear “the burden of producing
evidence that its employment decision was based on a
legitimate nondiscriminatory reason.”
Mayberry, 55 F.3d at 1089. If the defendant carries
its burden, the third and final step of the analysis requires
“the plaintiff to show that the defendant's
proffered reasons were a pretext for discrimination.”
that the Plaintiff attempts to establish a prima
facie case by asserting that 1) she did not violate
HomeGood's “improper behavior” policy because
she was not the aggressor, and 2) that a similarly situated
African American employee was not also terminated, the
analysis falls more squarely under the work-rule violation
framework instead of the traditional four factors outlined by
the Parties. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534
U.S. 506, 512, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) (noting
that “the precise requirements of a prima
facie case can vary depending on the context and were
‘never intended to be rigid, mechanized, or
ritualistic.'”) (citation omitted); see also
Ring v. First Interstate Mortgage, Inc., 984 F.2d
924, 927 (8th Cir. 1993) (finding “to measure a
plaintiff's complaint against a particular formulation of
the prima facie case at the pleading stage is
work-rule violation case such as this, the Fifth Circuit has
determined that a plaintiff may establish a prima
facie case of discrimination in two distinct ways.
First, a plaintiff may show that she did not violate the rule
for which she was disciplined. Second, even if she did
violate the rule, a plaintiff may still establish a prima
facie case by offering evidence of disparate treatment,
specifically showing that “employees who were not
members of the plaintiff's protected class were treated
differently under circumstances nearly identical to
[hers].” Turner v. Kansas City Southern Ry.
Co., 675 F.3d 887, 892 (5th Cir. 2012) (internal