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Sumter v. Jenny Craig, Inc.

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

June 21, 2016

Selena Sumter, Plaintiff
Jenny Craig, Inc., Tamara Draut, Krystian Ellisor, and Josephine Lenartz, in their individual capacities, Defendants.


          CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE Senior United States District Judge.

         Through this action, Plaintiff Selena Sumter ("Plaintiff") seeks recovery from her former employer, Jenny Craig, Inc. ("JCI"), for alleged employment discrimination based on her race, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; for discrimination based on her age, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 621, and for defamation. ECF. No. 1, Attachment 1. She also asserts a claim of civil conspiracy against Tamara Draut ("Draut"), Krystian Ellisor ("Ellisor"), and Josephine Lenartz ("Lenartz"), collectively, the "Individual Defendants." Id. The matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed December 16, 2015. ECF No. 22. Plaintiff filed her response in opposition on January 4, 2016. ECF No. 24. Defendants filed a reply on January 11, 2016. ECF No. 25.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (B)(2)(g), D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges for pre-trial proceedings and a Report and Recommendation ("Report"). On March 23, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that Defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted. ECF No. 30. 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 was granted an extension of time to file objections to the Report (ECF No. 38), and filed her objections on April 25, 2016. ECF No. 39. Defendants filed a reply on May 9, 2016. ECF No. 40. This matter is now ripe for resolution.

         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. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews only for clear error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating that "in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'") (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         Summary Judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). On a motion for summary judgment, the district court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1868 (2014) (per curiam)). "Summary Judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits." Id. Therefore, the court cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Id. at 569. The district court may not "credit[] the evidence of the party seeking summary judgment and fail[] properly to acknowledge key evidence offered by the party opposing that motion." Id. at 570. However, a party "cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another." Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). Therefore, "[m]ere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ennis v. National Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).

         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 Defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted. Accordingly, the court adopts the Report by reference in this Order, going beyond the reasoning of the Report where necessary to address the entirety of Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons stated in the Report and as further addressed below, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on all claims.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff presents three objections to the Report, essentially arguing that the Magistrate Judge's findings regarding each of her claims were error and that all claims should survive summary judgment. The objections are discussed below in turn.

         a. Plaintiff's Federal Discrimination Claims

         Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that her race and age discrimination claims fail as a matter of law. This objection focuses on the Report's finding that Plaintiff did not offer valid comparators to establish the fourth element of her prima facie case in the pretext framework for demonstrating discrimination. ECF No. 39, at 8; ECF No. 30, at 10-12.

         Specifically, Plaintiff argues that Ellisor is a valid comparator, and that the Magistrate Judge did not consider the totality of the evidence regarding this issue. However, this court finds that, while Ellisor later occupied the same supervisory position from which Plaintiff resigned, and complaints were made about her as a supervisor, there is simply not enough evidence of similarity to consider Ellisor a valid comparator. First, there is no evidence as to the nature of the complaints against Ellisor. Therefore, the court is unable to determine whether the complaints against Ellisor were as serious in nature as those against Plaintiff. In addition, while Plaintiff argues that a specific employee made seven complaints against Ellisor, and only one complaint about Plaintiff when she was in the same position, it is undisputed that Plaintiff was the subject of complaints made by other employees as well, and was written up at least once regarding a complaint. Finally, there is no evidence regarding JCI's response to any of the complaints against Ellisor to determine whether the employer treated Plaintiff differently, either during or after its investigation of any complaint, or if any complaint was serious enough for JCI to write Ellisor up or otherwise discipline her. Therefore, as Plaintiff does not have sufficient evidence regarding her only alleged comparator, she is unable to show she was treated differently. Thus, Plaintiff is unable to state a claim for discrimination based on race or age.

         Plaintiff does not specifically object to any other aspect of the race or age discrimination claims. Although Plaintiff "further relies on the evidence and arguments presented in her brief to establish pretext for summary judgment, which the Plaintiff cites to and incorporates herewith, " de novo review is not required when objections are general and conclusory. Smith v. Nuth, 98 F.3d 1335 (Table), 1996 WL 593792 at *1 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir.1982)). Specific objections are necessary in order to focus the court's attention on disputed issues. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147-48 (1985). Because general objections do not direct the court's attention to any specific portions of the report, general objections to a magistrate judge's report are tantamount to a failure to object. Smith, 98 F.3d at 1335; Howard v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir.1991).

         Therefore, while the court has considered Plaintiff's objection de novo, it reviews the remainder of the discrimination portion of the Report for clear error only. Finding none, the court adopts this portion of the Report in its entirety and ...

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