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Tyson v. State Line Lighting, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

July 30, 2014

Dawn Tyson, Plaintiff,
v.
State Line Lighting, Inc., Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

PAIGE J. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, Dawn Tyson ("Tyson"), filed this action[1] pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., against the defendant, State Line Lighting, Inc. ("State Line").[2] This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) DSC for a Report and Recommendation on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 34.) Tyson filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 47), and the defendant replied (ECF No. 48). Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court finds that the defendant's motion should be granted because State Line did not have the requisite number of employees during the relevant time period to be subject to Title VII.

BACKGROUND

This matter stems from Tyson's former employment with State Line and involves events between 2008 and 2011. For purposes of the instant motion, a detailed recitation of the underlying facts is not necessary; suffice it to say that Tyson alleges egregious conduct which she contends constituted sexual harassment by the then-chief executive officer of State Line, Mason McMehan, who avers that he is a recovering alcoholic. Tyson also alleges that State Line terminated her employment in retaliation for her complaints about the alleged harassment.

Unrefuted facts presented by State Line show that State Line is a closely held "S" corporation founded by Mason McMehan and his father, Grady McMehan. Mason McMehan began as the managing owner; his father invested and assisted in the business as an officer and director. Ben Burroughs became more involved in the company over time and by 2008 was a 25% shareholder and Vice President of Operations. Burroughs and Mason McMehan then served as the two managing owners. In late 2008, in light of his struggle with alcoholism, Mason McMehan left the company at the insistence of Burroughs and Grady McMehan. Mason McMehan, however, remained a 25% shareholder. Following in-patient treatment and employment with another company, Mason McMehan returned to his former role at State Line in early 2011.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party may support or refute that a material fact is not disputed by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine [dispute] of material fact. " Ballinger v. N.C. Agric. Extension Serv. , 815 F.2d 1001, 1005 (4th Cir. 1987) (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks & citation omitted). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257.

In discrimination cases, a party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable jury could rule in the non-moving party's favor. Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc. , 290 F.3d 639, 645 (4th Cir. 2002). The court cannot make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence, but the court should examine uncontradicted and unimpeached evidence offered by the moving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc. , 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). The court must determine whether a party's offered evidence is legally sufficient to support a finding of discrimination and look at the strength of a party's case on its own terms. See id. at 148 (stating that "[c]ertainly there will be instances where, although the plaintiff has established a prima facie case and set forth sufficient evidence to reject the defendant's explanation, no rational fact-finder could conclude that the action was discriminatory").

B. Applicability of Title VII to the Defendant

As an initial matter, State Line contends that it is not subject to Title VII's proscriptions against discrimination because it did not have fifteen employees during the relevant time period. Resolution of the instant motion turns on whether Mason McMehan, who was the chief executive officer of State Line, is considered an "employer" or an "employee." (See Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Summ. J. at 17, ECF No. 47 at 17.)

Title VII, which prohibits discrimination by an "employer, " defines that term as "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year...." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). The numerosity requirement is a threshold element of a plaintiff's claim under Title VII; without it, the employer is not subject to Title VII liability. See Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp. , 546 U.S. 500, 516 (2006).

The parties agree that the applicable law requires consideration of six non-exhaustive factors in determining whether a person is an employer or an employee. Clackamas Gastroenterology Assocs., P.C. v. Wells , 538 U.S. 440, 446 & n.6 (2003) (adopting the guidelines utilized by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC")); see also Mariotti v. Mariotti Bldg. Prods. , 714 F.3d 761, 765-66 (3d Cir. 2013) (stating that the six-factor analysis should be used to resolve this question regardless of whether the issue is ...


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