On April 11, 2014, the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied summary judgment to the Defendants in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. U.S. Dry Cleaning Services Corp., d/b/a Tuchman Cleaners. The EEOC alleges on behalf of Brisco Palmer, an African-American employee of Tuchman Cleaners, that in denying his request for promotion to the position of Assistant Manager the Defendant discriminated against him based on his race.
Palmer was fully qualified for the position he requested, as evidenced by the fact that the company trained him for the position and allowed him to act as the store’s Assistant Manager during the last six months of 2010. On many occasions he expressed to his Store Manager that he was interested in the position, and she discussed this request with the District Manager, who in turn discussed Palmer’s request with Regional Director James Dunn almost monthly. Although Mr. Palmer himself was never informed of this, the decision whether to promote him rested entirely with Dunn. During the time that he was aware of Palmer’s request, while he was still acting as Assistant Manager, Dunn decided to hire someone else, a white woman, to the position. Palmer was not informed that this person had been hired to the position he had requested; he found out when, acting as Assistant Manager, he processed some of the new employee’s paperwork. At that time he ceased performing Assistant Manager duties and went back to being a full-time Presser.
Understandably frustrated, Palmer asked his Store Manager again about becoming an Assistant Manager, and this time she told him that it was Dunn’s decision and, when she had asked him about it, he told her that he would not promote Palmer because “he did not think Palmer was the ‘face’ of the Zionsville store.” In May 2011 he filed a charge of race discrimination with the EEOC.
The gist of the Defendant’s argument for summary judgment was that the company was not liable for punitive damages due to the actions of Dunn, even if those actions were discriminatory, because the company had made good faith efforts to avoid discrimination. Dunn himself testified that he was “well grounded” in anti-discrimination laws and had received training from the company. The Court found i) that different managers had given inconsistent explanations of of the decision not to promote Palmer, ii) that many managers had actually received no training on anti-discrimination policies, and more generally iii) that the company had not made good faith efforts to combat race discrimination. Specifically, the Court found no evidence to support the company’s claim that they maintained an “open door policy” with regard to employee complaints, and that Mr. Palmer would have had no reason to believe he could complain to management about his perceived discrimination. Thus, factual questions remain for the Court to answer, and, if it was determined that Dunn discriminated against the Plaintiff by not promoting him, the company would probably be liable for any punitive damages a jury awarded in the case.
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