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Bell v. Nucor Corp.

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

August 19, 2016

DAVID BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NUCOR CORPORATION, d/b/a Nucor Steel Berkeley, ANDRE PORCHE, CHRIS STOW, Defendants.

          ORDER

          C. WESTON HOUCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court upon the report and recommendation ("R&R") of United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant recommending that the Court grant in part the Defendants' Rule 12(b) Partial Motion to Dismiss ("Motion to Dismiss") (ECF No. 9), leaving only the plaintiffs Title VII claims for retaliation and hostile work environment on the basis of gender against the defendant Nucor Corporation, d/b/a Nucor Steel Berkeley, ("Nucor"). For the reasons set forth in this Order, the Court adopts and incorporates the R&R (ECF No. 32) except that the only remaining claim is retaliation in violation of Title VII against Nucor.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This action is brought by David Bell (the "plaintiff), a white male who was employed by Nucor at its plant from October 8, 1996 to December 20, 2013 as a saw operator. (Compl. ¶¶ 20, 23, 28, ECF No. 1-1). In 2013, the plaintiff began to complain to his supervisor and management regarding issues related to workplace bullying, safety, air quality, and noise in the plant. (Compl. ¶¶ 29, 30-32). In April 2013, "an incident occurred", and the plaintiff was sent for a drug test, but "[a]nother employee was not sent for [a] drug test." (Compl. ¶ 37). In July . 2013, the plaintiff researched the effects of "abrasive blades" on air quality and discussed his concerns about these effects with management. (Compl. ¶ 39). The plaintiff posted an article regarding abrasive blades' effects on air quality in his workspace, pointing it out to the maintenance supervisor, Ted Smith. (Compl. ¶ 40). In September 2013, the plaintiff "published an article regarding air particles" and sent this article to several individuals at the plant. (Compl. ¶41).

         Also in September 2013, the plaintiff reported "inappropriate sexist remarks, constant statements regarding having sex, constant comments regarding trying to have sex with white women, and sexual harassment" by Andre Porche ("Porche")-his supervisor-yet Nucor failed and refused to address his complaint. (Compl. ¶¶ 43-44). The plaintiff also "reported a hostile work environment based on [Porche's] offensive and inappropriate commentary." (Compl. ¶ 45). After making these complaints, Porche gave the plaintiff two disciplinary actions: one for an administrative violation, and another for being disrespectful towards Porche. (Compl. ¶¶ 46-47). The plaintiff alleges that he did not commit these violations and that Porche "purposefully used the violations to terminate the [p]laintiff for his reporting actions." (Compl. ¶¶ 48-49). The plaintiff additionally alleges that "in order to perpetuate the termination of the [p]laintiff[, ]" Chris Stow ("Stow")-the department manager-"further lied about the [p]laintiff and placed lies in [Nucor's] log." (Compl. ¶ 52).

         On October 1, 2013, the plaintiff met with Stow to complain that he was disciplined more harshly than other employees. (Compl. ¶ 54). On the same date, the plaintiff complained to management regarding conditions of the bathrooms as well as health issues related to noise and air quality. (Compl. ¶ 53). Stow responded by stating that he made the rules and asking how the plaintiff "knew about abrasive blades and what was in them." (Compl. ¶ 54). On October 9, 2013, the plaintiff received an unfavorable evaluation-the least favorable in his 18-year career-allegedly in retaliation for his various complaints "regarding Nucor's failures." (Compl. ¶ 55). In November 2013, the plaintiff requested to see air and noise readings for the plant; Nucor informed him that documents were available for his review but "refused to provide information on how to see [the documents]." (Compl. ¶ 59). In December 2013, the plaintiff "submitted a complaint regarding other individuals failing and refusing to work." (Compl. ¶ 60). On December 14, 2013, the plaintiff went to Mark Deflipio, a supervisor, "regarding the hostile work environment being created by Andrew Porche[, ]" but Deflipio "failed and refused to handle the matter." (Compl. ¶ 61). The following day, the plaintiff made a safety complaint regarding cameras having poor visibility in the plant, yet Nucor did not address his safety concerns. (Compl. ¶ 62). On December 16, 2013, the plaintiff made another safety complaint regarding a cracked blade, an issue he had previously reported, but Nucor did not address the issue. (Compl. ¶63).

         On December 20, 2013, the plaintiff was terminated from his employment. (Compl. ¶ 64). To effectuate his termination, the plaintiff alleges that: (1) Nucor failed to follow its own policies and procedures regarding employee termination; (2) Nucor changed its policies in order to terminate the plaintiff; (3) Stow and Porche made defamatory statements about the plaintiff that lead to his termination; and (4) Nucor treated the plaintiff differently than other similarly situated male African American employees. (Compl. ¶¶ 68-69, 71-73).

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 28, 2015, the plaintiff filed this action in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, alleging causes of action for: (1) racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981") against defendant Nucor; (2) retaliation in violation of Section 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, ("Title VII") against defendant Nucor; (3) hostile work environment based on age and race in violation of Section 1981 and Title VII against all defendants; (4) slander and intentional interference with a contract against defendants Porche and Stow; and (5) wrongful termination in violation of public policy.[1] (Compl. ¶¶ 91-142). On September 3, 2015, the defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446 because of the various federal causes of action asserted by the plaintiff. (ECF No. 1). On September 10, 2015, the defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 9). After receiving an extension of time to respond, the plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 17). On October 23, 2015, the defendants filed their Reply thereto. (ECF No. 24).

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the case was referred to the magistrate judge for pre-trial proceedings and an R&R. On April 18, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant issued an R&R, recommending that the Court grant the defendants' Motion to Dismiss in part, leaving only the plaintiffs Title VII claims for retaliation and hostile work environment on the basis of gender against defendant Nucor. (R&R 28, ECF No. 32). The R&R specifically advised the parties of the procedures for filing objections thereto and the consequences if they failed to do so. (R&R 29). On May 5, 2016, the plaintiff filed his objections to the R&R (ECF No. 33), and on May 23, 2016, the defendants filed their reply thereto. (ECF No. 34).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "A motion filed under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint... considered with the assumption that the facts alleged are true[.]" Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). The Court measures the legal sufficiency by determining whether the complaint meets the Rule 8 standards for a pleading. Id. Rule 8 requires that a claim for relief contain a statement of the grounds for the Court's jurisdiction, a statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and a demand for the relief sought. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations[;]" however, it must contain "more than labels and conclusions, " and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" will not suffice. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Furthermore, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly. 550 U.S. at 570).

         Two working criteria guide the plausibility standard articulated in Twombly. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, although the Court must accept all facts alleged in the complaint as true, this is inapplicable to legal conclusions, and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citation omitted). Although legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, factual allegations must support the complaint for it to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 679. Therefore, a pleading that provides only "labels and conclusions" or "naked assertion[s]" lacking "some further factual enhancement" will not satisfy the requisite pleading standard. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.

         Second, to the extent that there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court should assume their truth and "then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. This determination of whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id (citation omitted). Rule 12(b)(6) does not allow dismissals based on the Court's disbelief of ...


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