United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PAIGE J. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff, Tracie Fludd, filed this employment case alleging race discrimination and retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; against her former employer, Richland County EMS. 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 to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 18.) Fludd filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 23), and the defendant replied (ECF No. 25). Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court finds that the defendant's motion for summary judgment should be granted.
The following facts are either undisputed or are viewed in the light most favorable to Fludd, to the extent they find support in the record. Fludd is an African-American female who was employed by the defendant as an emergency medical technician ("EMT") from August of 1999 until December 13, 2012 when she resigned from her position. Prior to her resignation, Fludd filed two charges of discrimination against the defendant. The first charge, filed on March 17, 2012, alleged age discrimination based on discipline Fludd received on February 7, 2012. This disciplinary action-a written reprimand by the defendant-followed an accident on February 1, 2012 in which an ambulance Fludd was backing came into contact with a bay door. In May of 2012, Fludd agreed to resolve the charge regarding the backing incident and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission closed its file on May 24, 2012.
Fludd's second charge, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on November 15, 2012, alleged discrimination based on race and retaliation. This charge alleged that: (1) the defendant disciplined Fludd on August 1, 2012, for being one minute late to work; (2) an immediate supervisor, Major William Young, refused to communicate with Fludd in a professional manner between August 2, 2012 and September 13, 2012; and (3) the defendant denied Fludd a "regular rotation" and assigned her to ride with a hostile white male employee, Robert Howe, between August 24, 2012 and September 13, 2012. Fludd's Complaint further asserts that she was reprimanded by the defendant for speeding on July 27, 2012, and placed on probation for speeding violations on August 1, 2012. After receiving a right-to-sue letter for her second EEOC Charge, Fludd filed this action.
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 and 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. Burden Shifting Framework in Employment Cases
A plaintiff may demonstrate discrimination through direct or circumstantial evidence. When direct evidence is lacking, a plaintiff may produce circumstantial evidence and proceed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Warch v. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co., 435 F.3d 510, 520 (4th Cir. 2006); see also McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). Pursuant to this framework, once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to produce evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action. Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight, 601 F.3d 289, 294 (4th Cir. 2010) (Title VII). The defendant's burden "is a burden of production, not persuasion." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142. Once a defendant meets this burden by producing affidavits or testimony demonstrating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, "the McDonnell Douglas framework-with its presumptions and burdens-disappear[s], and the sole remaining issue [is] discrimination vel non. " Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
In other words, if the defendant meets the burden to demonstrate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, the plaintiff must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the proffered reason was "not its true reason, but [was] a pretext for discrimination.'" Merritt, 601 F.3d at 294 (quoting Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). Accordingly, the plaintiff's burden of demonstrating pretext "merges with the ultimate burden of persuading the court that [the plaintiff] has been the victim of intentional discrimination.'" Merritt, 601 F.3d at 294 (quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256) (alterations in original); see also Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 319 (4th Cir. 2005) (Title VII & 42 U.S.C. § 1981). To meet this "merged" burden, the employee may prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the decision maker's affidavit is untrue or that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256.
"[A] plaintiff's prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer's asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 148. However, "if the record conclusively reveal[s] some other, nondiscriminatory reason for the employer's decision, or if the plaintiff create[s] only a weak issue of fact as to whether the employer's reason was untrue and there was abundant and uncontroverted independent evidence that no discrimination had occurred, " summary judgment is appropriate. Id. Accordingly, the court must evaluate "the strength of the plaintiff's prima facie case, the probative value of the proof that the employer's explanation is false, and any other evidence that supports the employer's case and that properly may be considered on a motion for judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 148-49. "Notwithstanding the ...