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Amedee v. Autozoners, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 25, 2014

EDRAS AMEDEE, Plaintiff,
v.
AUTOZONERS, LLC, STACY TOSTI, and IAN J. GILOSA, Defendants.

Ari R. Karpf, Esq., Richard J. Albanese, Esq., KARPF, KARPF & CERUTTI, P.C., Bensalem, PA, Counsel for Plaintiff Edras Amedee.

Tiffani Lynne McDonough, Esq., OBERMAYER, REBMANN, MAXWELL & HIPPEL, LLP., Cherry Hill, NJ, Counsel for Defendants Autozoners, LLC, Stacy Tosti, and Ian J. Gilosa.

Admitted Pro Hac Vice: Tracy Kern, Esq., Mary Margaret Lebato, Esq., JONES WALKER LLP., New Orleans, LA, Counsel for Defendants Autozoners, LLC, Stacy Tosti, and Ian J. Gilosa.

OPINION

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, Senior District Judge.

This employment discrimination matter comes before the Court on Defendants Autozoners, LLC ("Autozone"), Stacy Tosti, and Ian Gilosa's motion for summary judgment. Autozone fired Plaintiff Edras Amedee on July 16, 2012. Plaintiff now claims his discharge was racially motivated in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD").[1]

Although Plaintiff presents evidence of racial animus, he fails to demonstrate (i) that such animus proximately caused his dismissal, or (ii) that the stated reason for his termination - receipt of customer tips in violation of company policy - was pretext. Consequently, he fails to set forth a cognizable claim for relief. Defendants' motion will be granted.

I.

Plaintiff, an African-American male, began working for an Autozone store in Williamstown, N.J. in April of 2010. (PSMF ¶¶ 5, 6, 9)[2] Autozone is a nationwide chain of retail stores selling automotive parts and accessories. Autozone is the brand name under which Autozoners, LLC operates.

Plaintiff worked as a part-time sales associate. He performed minor automotive repairs, such as installing light bulbs and window shield wipers. (DSMF ¶ 33) These services are offered to customers free of charge, and it is against Autozone policy for employees to accept tips for rendering them. (DSMF ¶¶ 33, 34) Plaintiff was aware of and understood this policy. (DSMF ¶ 35)

During Plaintiff's employment, Defendant Gilosa was promoted to Store Manager of the Williamstown branch. (DSMF ¶ 9; Gilosa Dep. at 7:19) Gilosa, a Caucasian male, was responsible for overseeing store operations, which included inventory management, customer service, and employee performance. (DSMF ¶¶ 8, 9)

Defendant Stacy Tosti served as Gilosa's Assistant Manager. (DSMF ¶ 10) In such capacity, Tosti, a Caucasian female, shared many of Gilosa's responsibilities. (DSMF ¶¶ 10, 12)

Plaintiff had worked at Autozone for approximately one-and-a-half years prior to Gilosa and Tosti's promotions. Before and after the promotions, Plaintiff believed the individual Defendants "looked at [him] differently" because of his race, and followed him around the store. (PSMF ¶¶ 13-14)

In the spring of 2012, Gilosa witnessed an Autozone employee, Brandon Seamon, falsely ringing up merchandise so as to create an artificially low sale price.[3] (PSMF ¶ 16) Gilosa immediately reported the incident to the regional Lost Prevention ("LP") Department. (DSMF ¶ 16) Shortly thereafter, Divisional LP Investigator Keith Ridenour visited the Williamstown store to investigate Seamon. (DSMF ¶ 18) Seamon admitted to sliding merchandise to customers, and was discharged for theft. (DSMF ¶ 21)

Before he left, Seamon told Ridenour that three employees took snacks and drinks without paying for them: Plaintiff; Anthony White, an African-American male; and Daniel Lague, a Caucasian male. (DSMF ¶¶ 21, 22)

Ridenour then asked Defendants Gilosa and Tosti about any suspicions they had about employee theft. (DSMF ¶ 23) Ridenour did not share with them Seamon's allegations. Gilosa and Tosti both provided "generalized concerns about" Plaintiff and White.[4] (DSMF ¶ 23)

Following his investigation, Ridenour directed Paul Joeckel, Regional LP Manager, to speak with Plaintiff and White. (DSMF ¶¶ 28, 38) Ridenour did not direct Joeckel to speak with Lague. (DSMF ¶ 28) Ridenour did not know the races of Plaintiff, White, or Lague in assigning the investigations, and testified that he was unsure of Lague's last name. (DSMF ¶ 28)

Joeckel conducted a phone interview with Plaintiff in June 2012. (DSMF ¶ 38) During the call, Plaintiff denied stealing merchandise, but admitted to accepting tips. (DSMF ¶¶ 43, 44) Plaintiff told Joeckel that customers would put the tips in his pocket after he told them he could not accept, and that he would subsequently throw the tips away. (Amedee Dep. at 91-94)

Joeckel administered a follow-up questionnaire, in which Plaintiff wrote that he "took tips." (DSMF ¶ 46) Plaintiff did not provide any further information. Joeckel sent the results of his investigation, including the completed ...


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