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Man’s Sexual Discrimination Claim Against Wal-Mart And Sam’s Club Was Dismissed

Elzey v. Wal-Mart Assoc., Inc., et al.
United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Civ. No.: RDB-11-2151 (D. Md. August 28, 2012)

by Kevin M. Cox, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

Larry Elzey (“Mr. Elzey”) brought his employment discrimination action against Defendants Wal-Mart Associates, Inc., Wal-Mart-East, L.P. (collectively, “Wal-Mart”) and Sam’s East, Inc. (“Sam’s Club”) alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000, et seq. (“Title VII”) Mr. Elzey was terminated on July 16, 2009, following an investigation into accusations by female co-workers that he subjected them to unwelcome physical and verbal conduct of a sexual nature. Pending before the Court was Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment.

Mr. Elzey had been accused by female employees of Sam’s Club of sexual harassment because he used “double entendres and other insinuations” of a sexual nature in his interactions with them. He denied these accusations and defended himself by claiming that other female co-workers acted in the same manner as he allegedly did. Regardless, Mr. Elzey was terminated on July 16, 2009, from Sam’s Club. He filed an action alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title VII, alleging gender discrimination against Sam’s Club. He also alleged the same claim against Wal-Mart because according to him they “control[] the employment practices and decisions of Sam’s Club and dominate[] the operations of Sam’s Club to such an extent that Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart are one entity.” Wal-Mart moved to dismiss Mr. Elzey’s claim because he failed to: (1) exhaust his administrative remedies against Wal-Mart by omitting their names on the discrimination charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”); and (2) plead sufficient facts to allege that Wal-Mart was his employer. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club also filed a Motion to Dismiss due to Plaintiff’s failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Generally, the failure to name a party on a charge filed with the EEOC constitutes a failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Court has previously held, however, that such a failure does not necessarily bar the subsequent suit if “the purposes of the naming requirement were substantially met.” The Court has previously applied a four-part test, referred to as the substantial identity test, to determine whether a civil action can be brought against a defendant not named in the EEOC charge. Specifically, a court should consider:

(1) whether the role of the unnamed party could through reasonable effort by the complainant be ascertained at the time of the filing of the EEOC complaint;

(2) whether, under the circumstances, the interests of a named [party] are so similar as the unnamed party’s that for the purpose of obtaining voluntary conciliation and compliance it would be unnecessary to include the unnamed party in the EEOC proceedings;

(3) whether its absence from the EEOC proceedings resulted in actual prejudice to the interest of the unnamed party; and

(4) whether the unnamed party had in some way represented to the complainant that its relationship with the complainant is to be through the named party.

Of these four (4) factors, the second and third are the most important as they are most reflective of the two-fold purpose of the naming requirement. Because Mr. Elzey did not allege that Wal-Mart participated in the EEOC proceedings, or that they had knowledge of this gender discrimination claim, the purposes of the naming requirement were not met and Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to Wal-Mart.

The Court next addressed whether Wal-Mart was Mr. Elzey’s employer. Though not dispositive, the Fourth Circuit has articulated that the following four factors are relevant for assessing the degree of a parent’s control over its subsidiary: “(1) the interrelation of operations[,] (2) centralized control of labor relations[,] (3) common management[,] and (4) common ownership of financial control.” In applying these four (4) factors to the facts of Mr. Elzey’s case, the Court held that Mr. Elzey failed to plead sufficient facts to establish Wal-Mart exercised complete domination over Sam’s Club, such that the Court should treat them as one entity for purposes of Title VII. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims against Wal-Mart were dismissed with prejudice.

In addressing Mr. Elzey’s gender discrimination claim against Sam’s Club, the court held that the he did not allege a prima facie case against Sam’s Club because he did not allege that a female employee of Sam’s Club remained employed there despite being accused of sexual harassment. Regardless, even if he had alleged a prima facie claim of gender discrimination, the court held that he had not sufficiently alleged that the legitimate non-discriminatory reason for his termination proffered by Sam’s Club was a pre-text for discrimination. The Fourth Circuit has stated that “when an employer gives a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for discharging the Plaintiff, ‘it is not our province to decide whether the reason was wise, fair, or even correct, ultimately, so long as it truly was the reason for the Plaintiff’s termination.’” Hence, Mr. Elzey failed to allege gender discrimination under Title VII. For this and other reasons, the court held that Mr. Elzey failed to state a claim of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his claim against Sam’s Club was dismissed without prejudice.