United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
Jaime K. Beason, Plaintiff,
South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PAIGE J. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff, Jaime K. Beason, filed this employment case alleging violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq.; and the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, SC Code Ann § 41-10-10, et seq.; against her former employer, South Carolina Electric & Gas Company ("SCE&G"). 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 SCE&G's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 21.) Beason filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 23), and SCE&G replied (ECF Nos. 24 & 30.) Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court finds that the defendant's motion should be granted.
The following facts are either undisputed or are taken in the light most favorable to Beason, to the extent they find support in the record. Beason was employed by the defendant at its nuclear power station in Jenkinsville, South Carolina for approximately six years during which time she worked in the Plant Support Engineering Department as an Engineering Specialist. Among other benefits that she received through her employer, Beason was provided with Paid Time Off ("PTO"), which allowed qualified employees to take time off from work after obtaining advanced supervisory approval.
In April of 2013, Beason requested FMLA leave for the birth of her son. She ultimately was approved for FMLA leave for the time period of May 18, 2013 through August 9, 2013. Approximately two months prior to her expected date of return to work, Beason contacted Melanie Sumner in the human resources department via email to inquire about requesting a reduced full-time schedule upon her return to work. In her response, Sumner provided the policy and procedure for such a request to Beason, suggesting she submit a written, detailed request. Beason did so on July 5, 2013, requesting to be considered for a reduced full-time schedule of thirty-two hours per week to allow for her take her son to and from daycare and to enable her manage her household on her own. Beason's request also expressed willingness to accept other positions within the company, if available.
On July 11, 2013, Beason spoke with Sumner by telephone. During this conversation, Sumner advised Beason that her request for reduced full-time employment had not yet been approved. According to Beason, Beason informed Sumner that, should her request be denied, she would use leave she had acquired from PTO, as well as other accrued leave and holidays, to take her son to doctor appointments, and that Sumner responded "okay, great."
Sumner contacted Beason by telephone on August 7, 2013 to request that she meet with her and Kirk Weir to discuss Beason's request. During the conversation, Sumner informed Beason that her request for a reduced full-time schedule had not been approved. Beason met with Sumner and Weir the next day at which time, according to Beason, Weir informed her that he needed her to work forty hours or more because they were short-staffed. Beason proposed that she could return to work and create her own reduced hours position by using her PTO, but Weir denied her request. Beason also requested that she be allowed to return to work for a couple of months, again using her PTO to reduce her schedule, or that she use her PTO as her two weeks' notice, but Weir again denied her requests. Beason began crying and left the meeting to cry in the bathroom. Beason's employment with SCE&G ended as of August 12, 2013.
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. Burden Shifting Framework
A plaintiff may demonstrate discrimination through direct or circumstantial evidence. When direct evidence is lacking, as in this case, 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); see also Yashenko v. Harrah's NC Casino Co., LLC, 446 F.3d 541, 550-51 (4th Cir. 2006) (applying the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework to FMLA claims of retaliation). 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 frame-work-with its presumptions and burdens-disappear[s], and the sole remaining issue [is] discrimination vel non. '" Id.
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). To meet this "merged" burden, the ...