A racial discrimination claim filed against Pep Boys by a black couple who claimed they were denied service because of their race can move forward, however, their demand for $7 million in punitive damages has been thrown out.
U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied Pep Boys’ motion for summary judgment on Charlotte and Kyle Pinckney’s discrimination claims.
According to Jones’ opinion, the Pinckneys went to a Pep Boys location to have their vehicle serviced. Kyle Pinckney asked service manager Jason Morton to patch a hole in his tire, as Pinckney believed he had run over a nail.
A dispute ensued after Morton told the Pinckneys they would need two new front tires.
When Charlotte Pinckney replied that they weren’t there for new tires, Morton allegedly responded by calling the Pinckneys the N-word multiple times, according to Jones’ opinion.
Jones said Morton told a subordinate to get the Pinckneys’ car out of the garage after patching the hole.
The Pinckneys filed a complaint with Pep Boys’ customer hotline, but subsequently sued. Pep Boys alleged their discrimination claims based on denial of service could not stand because the tire was ultimately fixed.
But Jones said that element was in dispute, making summary judgment inappropriate.
“Defendant provided testimonial evidence that the tire could not hold air, that [mechanic] Mr. [Scott] Wurscher plugged the tire, and that Mrs. Pinckney told her co-worker that Pep Boys fixed the tire. Plaintiffs provided testimonial evidence that the tire was not repaired and that it continued leaking after they left Pep Boys,” Jones said.
In response to the plaintiffs’ $7 million punitive damages claims, Pep Boys argued that it cannot be held liable for Morton’s alleged comments because, through its employee training programs, Pep Boys made good-faith efforts to avoid such behavior by its employees.
“The undisputed facts in this case show that defendant made good faith efforts to conform to applicable federal law by creating and implementing a relevant code of conduct, policies, and training programs. Defendant maintains a code of conduct requiring respect and courtesy on the part of all employees,” Jones said.
“Defendant requires its employees to complete various customer service trainings, which review defendant’s policies against harassment and discrimination,” Jones continued. “Defendant has a system in place for reporting grievances and it encourages directors and managers to report all incidents of discrimination and harassment. In light of defendant’s good-faith efforts to prevent the kind of intolerable racial animus alleged, defendant may not be held vicariously liable for punitive damages for Mr. Morton’s actions. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will therefore be granted with respect to plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages.”
Martell Harris of The Trial Law Firm for the plaintiffs said “We are pleased with the ruling, and looking forward to the next steps in the process.”
Marc Esterow of Littler Mendelson for the defendants, did not respond to requests for comment.