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Morrow v. Carolina Urologic Research Center

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

September 24, 2014

Tamuera Morrow, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolina Urologic Research Center, LLC and Stacey Harrelson, Defendants.

ORDER

R. BRYAN HARWELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tamuera Morrow ("Plaintiff"), represented by counsel, filed this action in state court on February 27, 2013 seeking recovery against Defendants Carolina Urologic Research Center, LLC and Stacey Harrelson ("Defendants"). See Compl., ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff was formerly employed at Carolina Urologic Research Center, LLC ("CURC"), and Stacey Harrelson ("Harrelson") was her supervisor. Defendants removed the action from the Horry County Court of Common Pleas to this Court on March 15, 2013. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims for race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff also alleges state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.[1] See id.

On January 21, 2014, Defendants filed a motion summary judgment. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 25. Plaintiff timely filed a response in opposition on February 17, 2014, see ECF No. 36, and Defendants filed a reply on February 21, 2014, see Reply, ECF No. 38. The matter is now before the Court after the issuance of the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") of United States Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers, III.[2] See R & R, ECF No. 53. In the R & R, the Magistrate Judge recommends the Court grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on all of the federal claims, decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, and remand the matter back to state court. See id. at 21.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the district court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the district court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The district court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The district court is obligated to conduct a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only "general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The Court reviews only for clear error in the absence of a specific objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party has the burden of proving that summary judgment is appropriate. Once the moving party makes the showing, however, the opposing party must respond to the motion with "specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

When no genuine issue of any material fact exists, summary judgment is appropriate. Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1011 (4th Cir. 1991). The facts and inferences to be drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. However, "the 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 issue of material fact." Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)).

In this case, Defendants "bear[] the initial burden of pointing to the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Temkin v. Frederick Cnty. Comm'rs, 845 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). If Defendants carry this burden, "the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to come forward with fact sufficient to create a triable issue of fact." Id. at 718-19 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).

"Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with some evidence beyond the mere allegations contained in the pleadings to show there is a genuine issue for trial." Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992). The nonmoving party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, speculation, of conclusory allegations to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See id; Doyle v. Sentry, Inc., 877 F.Supp. 1002, 1005 (E.D. Va. 1995). Rather, the nonmoving party is required to submit evidence of specific facts by way of affidavits, depositions, interrogatories, or admissions to demonstrate the existence of a genuine and material factual issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e); Baber, 977 F.2d at 875 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324)). Moreover, the nonmovant's proof must meet "the substantive evidentiary standard of proof that would apply at a trial on the merits." Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1993); DeLeon v. St. Joseph Hosp., Inc., 871 F.2d 1229, 1223 n.7 (4th Cir. 1989). In discrimination cases, a party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable jury could rule in the non-moving party's favor. See Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 645 (4th Cir. 2002).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The facts of this case, including citations to the record, were completely and accurately set forth in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation unless otherwise noted. See ECF No. 53 at 1-7. Briefly stated, Plaintiff was employed by CURC from April 14, 2008 to January 28, 2011.[3] See Aff. of Tamuera Morrow, ECF No. 36-1 at ¶ 5; Termination Letter, ECF No. 30-9. Plaintiff's title at CURC was clinical research coordinator. See Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Dep., ECF No. 26-3. During the course of her employment, Plaintiff alleges that she suffered discrimination and harassment, and was treated less favorably than other employees because of her race. See Pl.'s Mem., ECF No. 36 at 20-24, 29-32. She also alleges that her termination was in retaliation for reporting harassment. See id. at 24-29.

Plaintiff has specifically objected to portions of the Magistrate Judge's description of the facts. Rather than repeat the undisputed facts, the Court will adopt the unobjected-to portions of the Magistrate Judge's description of the facts as its own, and will only address the disputed facts herein. Plaintiff first makes a general objection that the Magistrate Judge did not "present the facts in a light favorable to the Plaintiff." See Pl.'s Objs., ECF No. 54 at 4. Plaintiff then points out specific examples where she alleges the facts were not presented in a favorable light. Plaintiff notes that the Magistrate Judge discussed corrective actions Plaintiff received in 2009 and April of 2010, but that she did not receive any other disciplinary measures until January of 2011. See ECF No. 54 at 4. Plaintiff did go a considerable length of time without receiving any additional disciplinary measures. However, these corrective actions are relevant, the employer had many other legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiff, as set forth in more detail below.

Plaintiff then notes that the Magistrate Judge stated Michael Asbill and Harrelson testified that "it is extremely inappropriate to interrupt a physician while he is treating a patient, " due to the confidential and personal nature of medical treatment, see ECF No. 53 at 4, but she argues that this is not what they said in their depositions. Rather, Asbill only stated that you do not interrupt a physician, see Asbill Dep., ECF No. 27-10 at 2; the "extremely inappropriate" language came from Defendants' brief, see ECF No. 25-1 at 6. Plaintiff acknowledges that Harrelson testified that interrupting "is just something that you don't do, " Harrelson Dep., ECF No. 27-10 at 3, but Plaintiff argues that neither individual asserted that the confidential nature of treatment was the reason for not interrupting, see ECF No. 54 at 4-5. These facts do not appear to have had a bearing on the Magistrate Judge's ultimate conclusions. However, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that the Magistrate Judge's portrayal of Asbill and Harrelson's testimony does appear to have been in error. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge's description of the facts is modified to reflect the correct testimony.

Plaintiff then asserts that the Magistrate Judge presented the emails Plaintiff sent on her last day of work in a light that was not most favorable to Plaintiff. See id. at 5. The Court notes, however, that the Magistrate Judge extensively quoted from these emails and they are a part of the record. See ECF No. 53 at 5-6; Email Chain, ECF No. 26-10; Email Chain, ECF No. 28-4. This objection is without merit as the emails speak for themselves. Plaintiff also argues that the Magistrate Judge "fails to address any of the facts that evidence the Plaintiff's causes of action." See ECF No. 54 at 5. The Court notes that, upon an independent review of the record, the Magistrate Judge does appear to address all of the relevant facts concerning Plaintiff's causes of action. Aside from the items discussed in this Order, Plaintiff points to no specific facts which the Magistrate Judge failed to address. Accordingly, this objection is also without merit. Plaintiff then claims that Defendants contend she conceded the corrective action write-ups were proper, see id. at 5, but that Plaintiff specifically testified that she "didn't agree with the write up, " see Pl. Dep., ECF No. 27-2 at 2. The Magistrate Judge, however, did not address this contention of Defendants in the R & R. Thus, this "objection" is irrelevant, as it does not relate to the R & R.

Finally, Plaintiff asserts that the Court "specifically cites to Defendant's recitation that the Plaintiff was the aggressor in all actions." See ECF No. 54 at 5. Plaintiff argues, however, that this is in "direct contradiction to the other employees and what they testified to." See id. Plaintiff asserts that her coworkers, Jennifer Baiden and Jake Lowery, "both testified contrary to that information." See id. The Court has reviewed the deposition testimony cited by Plaintiff. Baiden specifically testified that Plaintiff "would try to involve me in her personal problems with Stacey a lot." See Baiden Dep., ECF No. 36-5 at 2. Lowery testified that he did not have any personality conflicts with Plaintiff and did not remember Plaintiff being threatening. See Lowery Dep., ECF No. 36-10 at 5. He did testify that he witnessed an altercation between Plaintiff and Harrelson, and vaguely remembered Plaintiff getting upset and Harrelson having to "come in and try to rectify the situation." See id. at 6. The Court agrees with Plaintiff that this deposition testimony does not necessarily suggest that Plaintiff was the aggressor. In the R & R, however, the Magistrate Judge cited to notes from a CURC staff meeting and Asbill's deposition for the fact that employee interviews revealed Plaintiff was to blame for the tension with Harrelson, and that Harrelson was not the aggressor. See Notes and Asbill Dep., ECF No. 30-4. This evidence does support the fact that several employees believed Plaintiff to be ...


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