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Sanders v. Wal-Mart Supercenter of Aiken, SC

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

March 24, 2016

Eric Alan Sanders, Plaintiff,
v.
Wal-Mart Supercenter of Aiken, SC, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION

Plaintiff Eric Alan Sanders (“Sanders” or “Plaintiff”) filed this action pro se against his former employer, Defendant Wal-Mart Supercenter of Aiken, SC[1] (“Wal-Mart” or “Defendant”), alleging that he was subjected to discrimination because of his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213. (ECF No. 1.)

This matter is before the court on (1) Wal-Mart’s Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (ECF No. 65), (2) Sanders’s Motion for Judgment Alleging the Crime of Barratry (ECF No. 53), and (3) Sanders’s Motion to Compel Discovery Production and Motion to Supplement Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 81). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pretrial handling. On December 14, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court grant Wal-Mart’s Motion for Summary Judgment and terminate as moot Sanders’s Motion for Judgment Alleging the Crime of Barratry and Motion to Compel Discovery. (ECF No. 91.) Thereafter, Sanders filed the following documents that the court has construed as comprising the entirety of his Objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation: a Motion to Vacate Order Granting Defendant’s Motion to Strike (ECF No. 95); a Motion to Vacate Order Terminating as Moot Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment Alleging the Crime of Barratry (ECF No. 98); a Motion to Vacate Order Terminating as Moot Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (ECF No. 99); a Motion to Vacate (ECF No. 100); and a Supplemental Statement of Disputed Facts and Questions of Law (ECF No. 113).[2] A hearing was held in this matter on March 17, 2016. (ECF No. 127.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS IN PART AND REJECTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation and GRANTS Wal-Mart’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The court DENIES AS MOOT Sanders’s Motion for Judgment Alleging the Crime of Barratry and Motion to Compel.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION

The facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 91.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge’s factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein additional facts viewed in the light most favorable to Sanders that are pertinent to the analysis of his claims.

Sanders is a 33-year-old, African-American man. (ECF No. 65-30 at 10.) Sanders allegedly suffers from numerous mental impairments including bipolar disorder. (ECF No. 65 28 at 27/97:19-100:23.[3]) Wal-Mart is a department store chain in the retail sales industry.

Wal-Mart initially hired Sanders as a meat department associate at a store in Barnwell, South Carolina on April 1, 2003. (ECF No. 65-28 at 7/20:23-8/21:8.) Sanders worked at the Barnwell store until November 30, 2007. (Id. at 8/23:4-25.) Wal-Mart hired Sanders for a second time on April 23, 2009, as a sales associate at a supercenter store in Augusta, Georgia. (Id. at 13/44:8-24.) Sanders voluntarily terminated his sales associate position on June 2, 2009, because he did not have transportation to work. (Id. at 14/48:1-23.) On September 2, 2011, Wal-Mart hired Sanders for a third time as a general merchandise stocker at the supercenter store in Aiken, South Carolina.[4] (ECF No. 65-30 at 9-10.) Sanders worked as a stocker until March 31, 2012, when he was promoted to the position of overnight support manager.[5] (ECF No. 65-28 at 45/169:5-7.)

Sanders worked as the overnight support manager until April 10, 2012, when he “stepped down” from the position in hopes of returning to his former position as a stocker. (ECF No. 65-28 at 52/199:15-200:10 & 69/268:16-21.) Sanders communicated his resignation to the Aiken store manager, Teresa King (“King”), and a shift manager, David Guillebeau (“Guillebeau”). (Id. at 52/199:9-25.) During his conversation with King and Guillebeau, Sanders revealed he suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, but did not mention he was also bipolar. (Id. at 35/131:11-36/133:11.) King and Guillebeau asked Sanders to keep working through inventory. (Id. at 70/269:8-270:3.) As a result, Sanders continued to work for Wal-Mart providing overnight support until April 14, 2012. (Id. at 69/268:22-70/269:11.)

As the overnight support manager, Sanders alleges that he was subjected to harassment and bullying by the following supervisors: Ingrid Peeples (“Peeples”), overnight assistant store manager; Angelia Ethridge (“Ethridge”), overnight assistant store manager; and Bill Shiver (“Shiver”), shift manager. (ECF Nos. 1 at 7 ¶ 56-10 ¶ 118 & 65-28 at 25/92:5-9). The Magistrate Judge summarized these incidents of alleged harassment/bullying as follows:

Sanders alleges that on March 31, 2012, his first day in his new position, his direct supervisor and Overnight Assistant Store Manager Angelia Ethridge had a conversation with Sanders in which she repeatedly said to him that he needed to “get [his] mind right” and to “calm down.” ([ECF No. 1] . . . [at] ¶ 56.) Sanders states that he found Ethridge’s comments to be insensitive, painful, and discriminatory because he has suffered from a number of mental conditions since the age of twelve. (Id. ¶¶ 58-59.) He also alleges that Ethridge’s comments to him were threatening when viewed through the hip hop culture, as “telling someone to get their mind right was a threat and was often [preceded] by an expletive.” (Id. ¶ 60.)
Sanders also details an incident that occurred on April 2, 2012, in which Sanders found Ethridge and Bill Shiver, Sanders’s shift manager, cleaning up carts of trash that had been left in the back room. (Id. ¶ 73, ECF No. 1 at 8.) Sanders alleges that he had intended to take care of the trash himself, but had been delayed by other duties. (Id. ¶ 70.) Sanders alleges that this incident created conflict between him and his supervisors, as Ethridge informed him that she got “coached” for him and Shiver accused him of not “managing [his] small square of authority.” (Id. ¶¶ 80, 82.)
Approximately a week later on April 9, 2012, Ethridge attempted to repeatedly page Sanders over his Wal-Mart walkie-talkie as he was assisting another employee, asking him “What are you doing?” and “Do you know what time it is?” (Id. ¶¶ 88, 90-91, ECF No. 1 at 9.) Sanders states that he attempted to respond, but perceived her tone and inflection to be disrespectful to him, so he turned off his walkie-talkie and went to the bathroom stall to cry. (Id. ¶¶ 92-93.) The next day, Sanders met with Store Manager Teresa King and Shift Manager David Guillebeau to discuss the incident regarding Ethridge from the previous day. (Id. ¶ 101.) The meeting ultimately concluded with Sanders’s stepping down from his position as Overnight Support Manager. (Id. ¶ 103.)
On April 14, 2012, Sanders returned to work and Bill Shivers “repeatedly” called Sanders “to come to the man[a]ger’s office” in a manner that “suggested [Sanders] was simply ignoring or not responding to [Shivers.]” (Id. ¶¶ 109-114, ECF No. 1 at 10.) Sanders took out a recording device to document his conversation with Shivers, who left the room after stating that he didn’t know Sanders was “off the clock” prior to calling him to the office. (Id. ¶¶ 115-117.) Sanders told Latoya Johnson, an assistant manager, that he could not complete his shift due to stress levels and a stomach condition triggered by stress. (Id. ¶ 119, see also id. ¶¶ 7, 18, ECF No. 1 at 4-5.) Sanders also inquired about taking a leave of absence, but did not complete and turn in the required paperwork to do so. (Id. ¶ 120.)

(ECF No. 91 at 3-4.)

After suffering through the foregoing, Sanders completed an EEOC Intake Questionnaire on April 13, 2012, in which he provided factual support for his alleged hostile work environment and failure to promote claims and checked boxes for discrimination based on his “Race, ” “Sex, ” “Disability” and “Religion.” (ECF No. 65-30 at 11 & 13.) On April 14, 2012, Sanders obtained a copy of Wal-Mart’s leave of absence (“LOA”) packet and even started to fill it out. (ECF No. 65-28 at 79/305:13-25.) Thereafter, on April 15, 2012, Sanders was involuntarily committed to Aiken Regional Medical Center and remained hospitalized until April 28, 2012. (ECF Nos. 1 at 10 ¶ 122, 65-18 at 2-3, 65-19 at 2 & 65-20 at 2.) Wal-Mart also sent Sanders a LOA packet via certified mail on April 17, 2012. (ECF No. 65-15 at 2.)

On May 1, 2012, Sanders returned to the Aiken store and met with King and a visiting store manager, Rodney Baker. (ECF Nos. 1 at 10 ¶ 124 & 65-21 at 2.) At this meeting, Sanders told King that he suffers from bipolar disorder and asked to be allowed to return to his old position.[6] (ECF No. 1 at 11 ¶¶ 128-29.) King advised Sanders that interviews were being conducted to fill his position and Sanders then asked if he could transfer to another store. (Id. at ¶¶ 130, 134.) King told Sanders that she would approve his transfer request, but also explained to Sanders that he needed to return a LOA packet to the Aiken store by May 4, 2012, in order to be eligible to return to work. (ECF No. 65-21 at 2.) Sanders never returned his LOA packet. (ECF No. 65-28 at 84/327:5-11.) Wal-Mart terminated Sanders’s employment effective May 11, 2012. (ECF No. 65-23 at 2.) Wal-Mart’s stated reason for terminating Sanders is that “he repeatedly failed to take the steps necessary to return to work upon being released from his involuntary commitment, . . . .” (ECF No. 65-1 at 22.) However, in its exit interview documentation, Wal-Mart coded Sanders’s termination type as “voluntary” and stated the termination reason as “career opportunities” with the manager adding comments that the “associate decided to pursue other career opportunities.” (ECF No. 65-23 at 2.)

On June 4, 2014, Sanders filed a Charge of Discrimination (the “Charge”) with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (ECF No. 65-30 at 9.) In the Charge, Sanders alleged that he suffered discrimination in violation of the ADA and checked boxes for “Retaliation” and “Disability.” (Id.) He stated the following particulars:

I was hired as a General Merchandise Stocker on September 2, 2011. I was promoted to Overnight Support Manager on March 31, 2012. On April 9, 2012, I received training for my new position by Assistant Manager, Angelina Etheridge. During the training, Ms. Etheridge stated to me, “You need to get your mind right, you need to calm down.” Ms. Ethridge repeatedly asked me if I was okay. On April 10/11, 2012, I informed Teresa King, Store Manager, of my disability. On April 14, 2012, I requested a 30 day leave of absence. I spoke with Latoya Johnson, Supervisor. Ms. Johnson verbally approved my request. On April 15, 2012, I was hospitalized. I was released from the hospital on April 30, 2012. I was terminated on May 12, 2012.
No reason was given for my termination.

(Id.)

After receiving notice of the right to sue from the EEOC as to the Charge, Sanders filed a pro se Complaint in this court on September 2, 2014, specifically alleging a cause of action for disability discrimination in violation of the ADA based on the termination of his employment (ECF No. 1 at 11 ¶ 1) in addition to referencing claims for discriminatory failure to promote (id. at 6 ¶¶ 37-45), discriminatory assignment of job duties (id. at 7 ¶ 53), and hostile work environment (id. at 7 ¶¶ 56-62, 8 ¶¶ 73-83 & 9 ¶¶ 90-95). On September 5, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued an Order and Special Interrogatories requiring Sanders to bring the case into proper form by September 29, 2014. (ECF No. 6.) The Magistrate Judge entered a second “proper form” Order on October 6, 2014, giving Sanders until October 30, 2014, to bring the case into proper form. (ECF No. 15.) Thereafter, on November 7, 2014, the Magistrate Judge entered an Order construing Sanders as only alleging a claim against Wal-Mart for discriminatory discharge in violation of the ADA.[7] (ECF No. 22 at 1.) Sanders did not move for reconsideration of the November 7, 2014 Order or appeal its result.

Wal-Mart answered the Complaint on December 8, 2014, denying its allegations. (ECF No. 31.) On June 8, 2015, Sanders filed a Motion for Judgment Alleging the Crime of Barratry (ECF No. 53) to which Wal-Mart responded on June 15, 2015 (ECF No. 55). On July 9, 2015, Wal-Mart filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 65.) Sanders filed a Memorandum in Support of Denial of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on August 17, 2015, to which Wal-Mart filed Defendant’s Reply to Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on August 27, 2015. (ECF Nos. 75, 77.) On September 14, 2015, Sanders filed his Motion to Compel Discovery Production (ECF No. 81) to which Wal-Mart responded on September 25, 2015 (ECF No. 83).

The Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation on December 14, 2015, recommending that the court grant Wal-Mart’s Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Sanders’s Motions as moot. (ECF No. 91.) Construed as his Objections, Sanders filed 4 Motions to Vacate the Report and Recommendation (ECF Nos. 95, 98, 99 & 100) on January 4, 2016, and a Supplemental Statement of Disputed Facts and Questions of Law (ECF No. 113) on January 21, 2016.[8] Wal-Mart filed Responses to 3 Motions to Vacate on January 22, 2016 (ECF Nos. 106, 107 & 110), and to the remaining Motion to Vacate and the Supplemental Statement on February 5, 2016 (ECF No. 116).

Thereafter, on March 17, 2016, the court heard argument from the parties on the ...


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