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Holloman v. South Carolina Department of Mental Health

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

March 23, 2016

Carole Holloman, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Mental Health, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION

Margaret B. Seymour Senior United States District Judge

On February 7, 2014, Plaintiff Carole Holloman (“Plaintiff”) brought this action against her employer, Defendant South Carolina Department of Mental Health (“Defendant”), asserting claims of breach of contract and breach of contract with fraudulent intent. ECF No. 1-1. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated a Mediation Agreement, which was a contractual obligation entered into by the parties on May 20, 2013. The Mediation Agreement attempted to resolve Plaintiff’s claims of retaliation and race and age discrimination brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 626, et seq. Plaintiff now alleges that Defendant violated the Mediation Agreement by continuing to discriminate and retaliate against her in violation of Title VII and the ADEA. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pretrial handling.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff, who is African-American and over the age of forty, contends that Defendant breached the terms of a May 30, 2013, Mediation Agreement between the two parties. ECF No. 1-1 at 8. The Mediation Agreement stated that there would be “no discrimination or retaliation” against Plaintiff. ECF No. 9-2 at 3. Plaintiff claims that after the execution of the Mediation Agreement, she was subject to disparate treatment and retaliation on the basis of her race and age in the following ways: (1) Defendant did not select Plaintiff for a promotion; (2) Defendant suspended Plaintiff without pay; and (3) Defendant constructively discharged Plaintiff. ECF No. 1-1 at 5. Plaintiff also appears to assert a hostile work environment claim. Id. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on April 13, 2015. ECF No. 34. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on June 1, 2015 (ECF No. 40), to which Defendant filed a reply on June 11, 2015. ECF No. 41. On January 19, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she determined that Plaintiff had failed to make out her claims of breach of contract and breach of contract with fraudulent intent. ECF No. 42. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendant’s motion for summary judgment be granted. Id. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on February 2, 2016 (ECF No. 42), to which Defendant filed a reply on February 22, 2016. ECF No. 44.

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility for making a final determination remains with this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). This court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This court may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A party will prevail on summary judgment if there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. Rule Civ. P. 56(a). In discrimination cases, a party will be 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).

In a Title VII claim of discrimination or retaliation, a plaintiff may prove her case through direct evidence. Foster v. Univ. of Maryland-E. Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 249 (4th Cir. 2015). However, in the absence of direct evidence, a plaintiff may proceed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Id. (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 (1973)). Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. Once a plaintiff has done so, the burden shifts to the defendant to produce evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action. Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 601 F.3d 289, 294 (4th Cir. 2010). Finally, if the defendant meets the burden of production, the plaintiff must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant’s proffered reasons “were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.” Id. (citing Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). Applying the McDonnell Douglas framework to the context of summary judgment, a 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.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148-49 (2000).

B. Breach of Contract

Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s finding that Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact as to her breach of contract claim. ECF No. 43 at 4. To establish a breach of contract claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) the existence of a binding contract; (2) its breach; and (3) damages caused by the breach. See Fuller v. E. Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 124 S.E.2d 602, 610 (S.C. 1962). The Magistrate Judge held that there could be no breach of contract because Plaintiff failed to establish either disparate treatment or retaliation in violation of the applicable federal statutes.[1]ECF No. 42 at 6. Also, to the extent that Plaintiff asserted a claim of hostile work environment, the Magistrate Judge held that Plaintiff failed to show that such a hostile work environment existed. Id. at 19.

1. Disparate Treatment

a. Failure to Promote

Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s finding that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of failure to promote on the basis of race. ECF No. 43 at 8. A plaintiff bringing a failure to promote claim must demonstrate: (1) she is a member of a protected group; (2) she applied for the position in question; (3) she was qualified for that position; and (4) the defendant rejected her application under circumstances that give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. Wesley v. Arlington Cnty., 354 F. App’x 775, 778 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 406 F.3d 248, 268 (4th Cir. 2005)). Only the fourth prong is in dispute. ECF No. 42 at 15. Plaintiff cites her personal qualifications for the job and offers evidence of the her competitor’s shortcomings (ECF No. 40 at 23); however, Plaintiff provides no evidence suggesting that Defendant denied her the promotion because of her race. Defendant proffers that it hired a more qualified candidate who held a four-year degree and supervisory experiences. ECF No. 34-5 at 12. Plaintiff offers no evidence to demonstrate that Defendant’s proffered reason for filling ...


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