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Langford v. Bell Motors LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 9, 2018

Dale Langford, Plaintiff,
Bell Motors LLC, et al., Defendants.


          David G. Campbell, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Dale Langford filed a complaint against Defendant Bell Motors LLC for discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). Doc. 1-1. Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims (Doc. 37), and Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on Defendant's Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense (Doc. 39). The motions are fully briefed, and no party requests oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny both motions.

         I. Background.

         Plaintiff worked as a car salesman at Defendant's dealership from February to October 2013. Doc. 46-1 at 20. This position required him to “[p]rospect on a day-today basis by phone[.]” Doc. 38 at 6. In practice, supervisors asked salesmen to contact prospective customers approximately every three days. Doc. 46-1 at 13.

         Plaintiff is a Baptist who believes that Sunday is a day of rest for all people. Doc. 46 at 6. Plaintiff chose to work on Sunday because of his financial need, but believed he should not interrupt others' observance of the day of rest. Doc. 46-2 at 2-3. For that reason, Plaintiff refused to make unsolicited sales calls on Sundays, although he would place calls to persons who requested them. Doc. 38 at 29.

         On Sunday, September 1, 2013, desk manager Neil Lyons told Plaintiff and other salesmen to make unsolicited calls to prospective customers. Doc. 38 at 1-2; Doc. 46 at 6-7. Plaintiff protested that he would not “harass” people on a Sunday. Doc. 46-1 at 24-27.[1] Mr. Lyons expressed frustration and left to get the general sales manager, Frank Stevens. Doc. 46 at 7. Minutes later, Mr. Stevens arrived and stated something to the effect of “I do not give a f--- about your religion. Get on the phones, or you are fired.” Doc. 38 at 18; Doc. 46-1 at 27. Plaintiff continued to refuse. Doc. 38 at 19. Intending to file a complaint, Plaintiff called Human Resources specialist Janice Jordan later that day. Doc. 46 at 7. He left a voicemail requesting a call back about an interaction with his supervisor that morning. Doc. 46-4 at 3-4. Another salesman who joined in Plaintiff's protest left a voicemail for Human Resources as well. Doc. 40-4 at 25-27.

         At all times relevant to this case, Defendant had an anti-discrimination policy that provided multiple avenues to report harassment and required Human Resources to investigate complaints. Doc. 44-1 at 40-73. This policy required Human Resources to treat complaints as confidential to the extent reasonably possible. Doc. 40-4 at 19-20. And it provided for different methods of resolution depending on the nature and severity of the complaint. Id. at 17-18, 22. For routine personnel conflicts, Human Resources could rely on local management to resolve the issue. Id. But for more severe complaints of discrimination, a Human Resources specialist would escalate the complaint to her own management. Id. In those cases, Human Resources would encourage the complainant to report any acts of retaliation for his complaint. Id. at 45.

         Ms. Jordan never returned the calls of Plaintiff or his co-worker to determine the nature of their complaints, their severity, or the need for confidentiality. Doc. 40-4 at 34-35; Doc. 46-4 at 5. She did alert general manager Eric Zimmerman about the voicemails. Doc. 40-4 at 30. On Tuesday, September 3, Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Stevens met with Plaintiff to discuss his call to Human Resources. Doc. 46 at 7. They directed Plaintiff to raise any future issues with them, not Human Resources. Id.; Doc. 38 at 13, 26-27. When Ms. Jordan visited the dealership later that day, Mr. Zimmerman told her that he had handled the situation. Doc. 40-4 at 31-32. She did not follow up with Plaintiff to encourage him to report any acts of retaliation. Id. at 46.

         Soon after the September 3 meeting, Mr. Stevens allegedly belittled Plaintiff, in front of a co-worker, for Plaintiff's assertion that his Associate's and Bachelor's degrees in theology qualified him to be an ordained minister. Doc. 46 at 7-8; Doc. 46-5 at 18.

         Later that month, Plaintiff helped a prospective customer who wanted to trade his 2012 Jeep for a 2007 Audi, which would have been a favorable deal for Defendant. Doc. 46-2 at 7. Yet Mr. Stevens refused to approve the deal when Plaintiff sought his authorization. Doc. 46-5 at 10. Approximately two days later, the same customer initiated and closed the same deal with the internet sales team. Id. Although it was customary for sales representatives to share commissions with those who helped work a deal, Plaintiff did not receive - nor did he request - a share in the commission. Doc. 38 at 3; Doc. 46 at 8; Doc. 46-2 at 16-17.

         On September 24, 2013, Plaintiff was helping a first-time car buyer who was interested in purchasing a truck for an advertised sale price of $9, 392. Doc. 46-5 at 12. Plaintiff sought Mr. Stevens's approval of the deal, but Mr. Stevens directed Plaintiff to make an offer of $14, 177.82 instead. Id.; Doc. 46 at 9. The increased price reflected some reasonable dealership fees, but also included two charges that Plaintiff characterizes as inflated: (1) the base price was set at $9, 991, not the sale price; and (2) the fee for a tracking device was set at $1, 999, but Plaintiff usually sold this device for $299 or $399. Doc. 46-2 at 19-29. When Plaintiff protested, Mr. Stevens admonished him to “get out and do your job.” Doc. 46-5 at 12. When Plaintiff communicated the adjusted price, the buyer laughed and rejected it. Doc. 46-2 at 26-27. The buyer offered to purchase the truck for the sale price, but asked that the tracking device and window tint (valued at $299) be removed. Id. at 24, 27-29. Even without those features, Mr. Stevens refused to reduce the price from $14, 177.82. Id. at 28-29. The buyer left the dealership without making a deal. Id. at 29.

         On September 28, 2013, Mr. Stevens asked Plaintiff to come to his office to meet with him and Plaintiff's direct supervisor, Floyd Brown. Doc. 46-5 at 12, 18. Mr. Stevens accused Plaintiff of attempting to persuade one of Defendant's customers to purchase a vehicle from a competing dealership where Plaintiff would soon work. Doc. 46-5 at 12-13. Mr. Stevens presented Plaintiff with a resignation letter and insisted that he sign it before the end of the day. Doc. 46-5 at 13, 18. Although Plaintiff admitted to searching for other work, he denied the accusations and refused to resign. Id.

         On October 1, 2013, Plaintiff informed Mr. Stevens over the telephone that he quit. Doc. 46-2 at 5. Mr. Stevens allegedly threatened to withhold Plaintiff's last paycheck if he did not come to the dealership to sign a resignation letter. Id. Plaintiff resigned his position on October 1, 2013. Doc. 46-1 at 20.

         II. Legal Standard.

         A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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). Summary judgment is also appropriate 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, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. Discussion.

         Plaintiff alleges three Title VII discrimination claims against Defendant: failure to accommodate, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge. Doc. 1-1 at 10-13. Plaintiff also asserts a Title VII retaliation claim. Id.

         A. Plaintiff's Discrimination Claims.

         The Ninth Circuit analyzes Title VII discrimination claims under a two-part framework:

Under the first part, [Plaintiff] must establish a prima facie case by showing that: (1) he had a bona fide religious belief, the practice of which conflicted with his employment duties . . .; (2) he informed [Defendant] of his beliefs and the conflict; and (3) [Defendant] threatened him with or subjected him to discriminatory treatment, including discharge, because of his inability to fulfill the job requirements. Once an employee establishes a prima facie case, the burden of proof then shifts to the employer under the second part of the framework to establish that it initiated good faith efforts to accommodate the employee's religious practices or that it could not reasonably accommodate the employee without undue hardship.

Lawson v. Washington, 296 F.3d 799, 804 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Berry v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 447 F.3d ...

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