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Appeals court rules against EEOC in AutoZone discrimination case

Appeals court rules against EEOC in AutoZone discrimination case

A federal appeals court has upheld dismissal of a case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which the agency contended that a black employee who was laterally transferred from a store with a largely Hispanic clientele had been discriminated against.

Kevin Stuckey worked as a sales manager for Memphis, Tennessee-based auto parts retailer AutoZone Inc. from 2008 to 2012, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. AutoZone Inc. and AutoZoners L.L.C.

During his four years with the company, Mr. Stuckey was transferred within Chicago-area stores several times, with none of these transfers entailing any loss in pay, benefits or job responsibilities, according to the ruling.

In July 2012, he was transferred again from a store that serves a largely Hispanic clientele, which again did not entail any reduction in his pay or responsibilities, according to the ruling.

But Mr. Stuckey never reported for work at his new assignment and instead filed a complaint with the EEOC accusing AutoZone of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mr. Stuckey, who is black, contended Auto Zone transferred him out of the store in an effort to make it predominantly Hispanic, according to the ruling.

The EEOC filed suit on Mr. Stuckey’s behalf, alleging the transfer violated an infrequently litigated provision of Title VII that makes it unlawful for an employer “to limit, segregate or classify his employees … in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The District Court in Chicago granted AutoZone summary judgment dismissing the case, which was unanimously affirmed by a three-judge appeals court panel.

In its ruling, the appeals panel said the only factual support for a finding of intentional segregation is Mr. Stuckey’s assertion that his manager told him the reason for the transfer was to create a predominantly Hispanic store, said the ruling.

Giving Mr. Stuckey’s version the benefit of the doubt, the question is whether the EEOC presented “sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the transfer adversely affected Stuckey’s employment,” said the ruling.

“The answer is ‘no,’ said the panel. “The evidence is undisputed that the July 2012 transfer was purely lateral, like the others before it, and entailed no reduction in pay, benefits or job responsibilities. Nor did it otherwise alter his conditions of employment in a detrimental way,” said the panel.

“The evidence does not permit a reasonable jury to find that Stuckey’s lateral transfer deprived or even tended to deprive him of any employment opportunity or otherwise adversely affected his employment status,” said the panel, in affirming the lower court ruling.