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Durant v. SAFE Federal Credit Union

United States District Court, District of South Carolina, Columbia Division

March 4, 2015

Terrie Dawson Durant, Plaintiff,
v.
SAFE Federal Credit Union, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

CAMERON McGOWAN CURRIE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the court on Plaintiff’s complaint asserting violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and state law claims for breach of contract and “bad faith demotion and termination.” Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, to which Plaintiff responded and Defendant thereafter replied. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (B)(2)(g), DSC, this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige Jones Gossett for pre-trial proceedings and a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) on dispositive issues. On January 16, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that Defendant’s motion for summary judgment be granted and this matter be dismissed with prejudice. ECF No. 43. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the Report and the serious consequences if they failed to do so. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on February 2, 2015; Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff’s objections on February 20, 2015.

I. Standard

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

After conducting a de novo review as to the objections made, and considering the record, the applicable law, and the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, the court agrees with the Report’s recommendation that Defendant should be granted summary judgment. Accordingly, the court adopts the Report by reference in this Order except the basis upon which the Report concludes that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination.[1] Nevertheless, Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as to all claims.

II. Discussion

Plaintiff presents four broad objections to the Report. The court reviews Plaintiff’s objections below in the order presented in the Report.

A. Race Discrimination

The Report recommends the court grant Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claim for race-based disparate treatment (“racial discrimination” claim). See Report at 6-10. This recommendation is based on the Report’s determination that Plaintiff failed to proffer sufficient evidence to meet two of the four elements of her prima facie case. See id. (concluding Plaintiff failed to proffer evidence sufficient to establish that (1) she was meeting Defendant’s legitimate expectations, and (2) the challenged actions constituted adverse employment actions).

Plaintiff objects to this recommendation on three bases. First, she contends the Report improperly disregarded evidence she was meeting Defendant’s legitimate employment expectations. Obj. at 9, ECF No. 44 (citing her pre-demotion performance appraisals). Second, she maintains the Report improperly failed to consider the collective impact of the challenged incidents. Id. at 9-10 (arguing that “viewed collectively” the incidents “directly affected the terms, conditions and privileges” of her employment). Finally, Plaintiff argues the Report errs in failing to address her argument that she was treated differently from a white comparator. Id. at 10.

For the reasons outlined below, the court finds Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination.

1. Legal Standard – Prima Facie Test

To establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment, Plaintiff must establish: (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) she was qualified for her job and her performance was satisfactory, (3) despite her qualifications she was removed from her branch manager’s position and placed in the MSC II position, and (4) she was treated differently from similarly situated employees outside the protected class. Coleman v. Maryland Ct. of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010).

2. Employer Expectations

In concluding that Plaintiff failed to establish she was meeting her employer’s legitimate expectations, the Report relies on Plaintiff’s 2011 Performance Review (“2011 Review”) and testimony from Michael Baker (Baker), Plaintiff’s supervisor, that as early as January 2012, he was considering demoting Plaintiff to a non-managerial position. Although the 2011 Review covers the 2011 calendar year, it is unclear whether it was prepared prior to Plaintiff’s contact with the EEOC. See 2011 Review, ECF No. 33-2 at 67 (noting review was “as of December 31, 2011” but indicating a “CEO Review” on February 23, 2012); ECF No. 39-5 at 3 (EEOC “Charge of Discrimination, ” dated February 16, 2012). Other evidence in the record indicates Plaintiff’s most recent performance review as of the date of her demotion (February 10, 2012), was the performance review prepared for calendar year 2010. See Depo. of Beverely Gagne at 81, ECF No. 41-5.

On March 4, 2009, Plaintiff signed a copy of her 2008 Performance Review. See ECF No. 33-2 at 42. This review covered calendar year 2008, which included seven months’ evaluation of her previous position as an “MSR/LI” and five months’ evaluation as Bishopville Branch Manager. See id. at 40. Plaintiff received an overall score of 3.29. Id.[2] The 2009 performance evaluation contains the notation that “[a]verage score must exceed 2.74 for pay progression advance.” Id.

On March 30, 2010, Plaintiff signed a copy of her 2009 Performance Review. See ECF No. 33-2 at 48. This review covered calendar year 2009. Plaintiff received an overall score of 3.16. Id.

In either February or March 2011, Plaintiff received a copy of her 2010 Performance Review. Compare ECF No. 33-2 at 57 (Plaintiff’s signature appears, but no date) with id. at 65 (Plaintiff and Baker’s signature appear next to the date February 4, 2011). This review covered calendar year 2010. Plaintiff received an overall score of 3.01.[3]

Defendant uses these scores to argue that Plaintiff’s performance was steadily declining throughout her tenure as Branch Manager.[4] However, Defendant determined that Plaintiff’s 2010 performance warranted a monetary bonus. On February 23, 2011, Plaintiff received a seven percent (7%) bonus for 2010. See Ex. 9 to Pla’s Mem. Opp., ECF No. 39-9 at 2. The email from ...


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