Jordan v. Mathews Nissan, Inc.

Decision Date17 May 2021
Docket NumberNO. 3:18-cv-01233,3:18-cv-01233
PartiesCALVIN JORDAN et al., Plaintiffs, v. MATHEWS NISSAN, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee

CALVIN JORDAN et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MATHEWS NISSAN, INC., Defendant.

NO. 3:18-cv-01233

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE NASHVILLE DIVISION

May 17, 2021


JUDGE RICHARDSON

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 36, "Motion"), supported by an accompanying memorandum of law (Doc. No. 37, "Memorandum"). Plaintiffs have filed a response (Doc. No. 42), and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. No. 44). This matter is ripe for review.

For the reasons discussed, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND1

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Plaintiffs Jordan, Brown, and Condrey (collectively "Plaintiffs") were all employed as car salesmen at Mathews Nissan during parts of June and July 2018. (Doc. No. 42 ¶ 1). Car sales at Mathews Nissan are divided into "used" and "new" categories, and the two types of cars have separate lots and salesmen. Plaintiffs Brown and Condrey worked as used car salesmen, and Plaintiff Jordan worked as a new car salesman. (Id. at ¶ 2). All three Plaintiffs were hired by Matthew Hall, a new-cars sales manager: Plaintiff Condrey began employment on June 25, 2018, Plaintiff Jordan began employment on June 27, 2018, and Plaintiff Brown began on July 3, 2018. (Doc. No. 45 at ¶¶ 4, 5; Doc. No. 36-7 at 14).2 Plaintiffs Jordan and Brown are African American individuals. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 3). Plaintiff Condrey identifies as American Indian and Native American,3 and he is married to an African American woman. (Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 4; Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 1).

A. The First Altercation Involving Plaintiff Brown

On Plaintiff Brown's first day of work at Mathews Nissan, he was involved in an altercation with another salesman, Ralph Garner. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 5). Mr. Garner is an African American individual, a long-time employee, and a "top salesman" of new cars at Mathews Nissan. (Id. at ¶ 6, 7). Plaintiff Brown was speaking with Plaintiff Jordan at the new-car building (not the used-car building, where Plaintiff Brown worked) when Plaintiff Brown was approached by a customer

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asking about a car. (Id. at ¶ 8). As Plaintiff Brown and the customer walked towards the car lot, Plaintiff Brown heard "screaming and yelling and cussing" as Mr. Garner walked toward him. (Id. at ¶ 9). Mr. Garner then hit Plaintiff Brown in the face with his elbow, caused Plaintiff Brown to hit his head, told Plaintiff Brown to go back to the used car area, and called Plaintiff Brown a "nigger."4 (Id. at ¶ 10; Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 7, 8, 9).

Mathews Nissan's General Manager Terry Yarbrough, a Caucasian5 individual, went outside to check on the confrontation. (Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 2). Plaintiffs and Defendant present different accounts of Mr. Yarbrough's conduct in breaking up the altercation. Defendant claims that Mr. Yarbrough merely instructed the two men to return to their respective buildings, but Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Yarbrough used racial slurs and threatened to fire Plaintiff Brown. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 11, 12). Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Yarbrough said "nigga, boy, I don't give a shit what you niggas do," "y'all boys need to separate," and threatened to fire Plaintiff Brown.6

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(Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 16; Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 10, 12, 14). Mr. Yarbrough denies having used any racist terms. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 17; Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 10-14, 18). After speaking with Plaintiff Brown, Mr. Yarbrough then returned inside and gave Mr. Garner a verbal reprimand. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 18). Mr. Yarbrough did not speak with Plaintiff Brown further, and Plaintiff Brown was not given a reprimand. (Id. at ¶ 19).

B. General Discriminatory Conduct in the Workplace

1. Racist Comments

Plaintiffs assert that during their employment with Defendant, Mr. Yarbrough and Mr. Hall, who both held jobs as managers, frequently made racially discriminatory comments such as using the language "nigger," "nigga," "niggers," "niggas," and "boy." (Id. at ¶ 20).7

Plaintiffs and Defendant dispute whether Mr. Hall used the racist language in a derogatory way, but Defendant does not dispute that Mr. Hall used the language. (Id. at ¶ 21-23). Plaintiffs claim that they "constantly" heard Mr. Hall use the phrases "my nigger" and "that's my nigga" in the workplace and were offended, but Defendant claims that the racist language occurred while playing Fortnite (an online video game) with an African American co-worker Mr. Hall was friends with, that the language was not directed at Plaintiffs, and that the language was a "term of endearment." (Doc. No. 42 at ¶¶ 21, 22; Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 21).

As for Mr. Yarbrough, Plaintiff Condrey heard Mr. Yarbrough use the "n-word" (Plaintiff Condrey used the shorthand but was referring to Mr. Yarbrough using the full word) on one

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occasion while overhearing a conversation, though he never heard Mr. Yarbrough use the word "boy." (Doc. No. 42 at ¶¶ 29, 32). Plaintiffs Brown and Jordan told Plaintiff Condrey that they had heard Mr. Yarbrough use the "n-word." (Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 19). Defendant states that Plaintiffs Brown and Jordan made no specific additional allegations of the use of racially derogatory terms by Mr. Yarbrough, but Plaintiffs dispute this and say they repeatedly heard the use of such terms. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 35).

Plaintiffs heard other co-workers in the workplace (in addition to Mr. Yarbrough and Mr. Hall) make racist, derogatory comments. (Id. at ¶ 36). Another salesman called Plaintiff Condrey "Squanto" and "Chief", terms he found offensive because he identifies as Native American. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶¶ 33-34; Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 26). Plaintiff Jordan heard Caucasian salesmen laughing at Plaintiff Condrey because his wife is an African American individual and also heard the term "Squanto" used in connection with Plaintiff Condrey. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 34; Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 25). Additionally, Mr. Garner was generally known around the dealership as the "field nigga" who received sales leads from management, while the Caucasian employees who received sales leads were the "house mouse" salesmen (apparently known as such because they got "all the cheese" from the general manager). (Doc. No. 42 at ¶¶ 38, 39; Doc. No. 37 at 5 n.1).

Under Defendant's policies, Plaintiffs reported the racial harassment and discrimination to their supervisors and to human resources.8 (Doc. No. 45 at ¶¶ 29, 30, 31). Plaintiff Condrey additionally emailed Sheila Yarbrough, a fellow employee and the ex-wife of Mr. Yarbrough, the day before leaving his employment with Defendant to complain about the hostile work

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environment, the lack of investigation, and the lack of response to Plaintiffs' complaints of racist conduct in the workplace, to which Ms. Yarbrough responded there "had been no response or investigation of the issues."9 (Id. at ¶¶ 74, 79).

2. Disparate treatment

Plaintiffs point to various situations where they allegedly faced disparate treatment based on their race: being paid less than non-African American employees, not being paid (unlike non-African American employees) what they had earned, not being provided bonuses that were provided to non-African American employees, not receiving leads (mainly Internet leads) that non-African American employees received, and being threatened with discharge or reduction in pay and earning opportunities. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 37).

Defendant maintains an Internet sales department, which is separate from the new and used car salesmen, which is made up of five internet managers, including four Caucasian employees and one African American individual. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶¶ 43, 44). Plaintiffs never applied for positions with the Internet sales department. (Id. at ¶ 45). Defendant claims that Internet leads are directed to and handled by this department, and not given to new and used car salesman (such as Plaintiffs). (Id. at ¶ 46). Plaintiffs dispute this, claiming that Defendant's managers directed Internet leads to car salesman, specifically to Caucasian salespersons only. (Id. at ¶ 46). Plaintiffs additionally claim that they were not given log-in credentials for the Customer Relationship Management ("CRM") database, which would have given them access to E-leads (Id. at ¶ 47). However, Defendant states the CRM system was just a system to enter customers' information for

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follow-up visits, not a system to distribute leads. (Id. at ¶ 50). Plaintiffs dispute this characterization, and they also argue that lacking credential to the CRM system deprived them of an important tool they needed to do their jobs well. (Id.). Defendant's records show that all three Plaintiffs had credentials to access the CRM system. (Id. at ¶ 48). The records show that Plaintiff Brown last logged in in July 2018, which Plaintiffs dispute. (Id. at ¶ 49). Plaintiffs instead claim that they asked repeatedly for, but were never given, log-in credentials. (Doc. No. 45 at ¶¶ 37, 39).

In addition to the Internet leads, Plaintiffs claim that two Caucasian salesmen were given leads to make sales, while Plaintiff Brown never received a sales lead.10 (Doc. No. 45 at ¶¶ 35, 36). Defendant disputes this, claiming that Plaintiff Brown acknowledged that he could have picked up lunch or done other favors for the sales managers in order to get leads as other salespersons had done, and that Mr. Garner, an African American individual, received leads. (Id.). Plaintiff Brown admitted that Mr. Garner "grinded" to sell cars and get opportunities at the dealership. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶ 40). Plaintiff Brown also admitted that he could have gotten leads if he picked up lunch or did favors for sales managers. (Id. at ¶ 41).

Mr. Yarbrough continuously took customers away from Plaintiff Brown and gave them to Caucasian salespeople.11 (Doc. No. 45 at ¶ 34). Mr. Garner stole ("skated") two of Plaintiff Jordan's customers, and one of Plaintiff Condrey's leads was stolen by another salesman. (Doc. No. 42 at ¶¶ 54, 55). Plaintiff Brown claims that he was paid incorrect commissions for two sales, but the parties...

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