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Nelson v. Town of Mt. Pleasant Police Department

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

September 21, 2016

VANEOSHA NELSON, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF MT. PLEASANT POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendant Town of Mt. Pleasant Police Department's (“defendant”) objection to Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending the court grant defendant's motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff's Title VII claim and remand plaintiff's remaining claims to state court. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R, grants summary judgment on plaintiff's Title VII claim, and remands the remaining claims to state court.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff Vaneosha Nelson (“plaintiff”) is an African American woman who was briefly employed by defendant as a police recruit. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 1, Nelson Aff. ¶¶ 4, 5; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1, Gragg Aff. ¶ 4. During the time of her employment, plaintiff wore her hair in its natural state, without chemical processing. Nelson Aff. ¶ 6. Plaintiff maintained her hair in a “neat, clean, well-groomed” manner and “in such a way as to keep [her] hair from touching [her] collar.” Id. ¶ 7.

         Defendant has in place a Uniform and Appearance Policy (the “Policy”) which provides that

[h]air must be clean, neat, combed and conservatively groomed. Hair shall not be worn longer than the top of the shirt collar at the back of the neck when standing with the head in a normal position. The bulk or length of the hair shall not interfere with the normal wearing of all standard head gear. Exotic coloring, cuts, or styling is prohibited.

Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2, General Order No. 90-0606 re: Uniforms/Appearance. Plaintiff's supervisor, Corporal Jason Brandon (“Brandon”), initially told plaintiff that she needed to change her hair style so that her hair did not sit high up on the top of her head. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3, Nelson Depo. 9:1-3. Later, Seargant Matt Salata (“Salata”) presented plaintiff with the Policy and notified her that her hair needed to fit within defendant's standard head gear. Id. at 11:1-11. In yet another meeting on the subject with either Chief of Police Carl Ritchie (“Ritchie”) or Deputy Chief Stan Gragg (“Gragg”), plaintiff tried on the standard headgear which was difficult to fit on with her hairstyle. Id. at 12:8-24. Defendant then tried on larger headgear but defendant told her that she was still not in compliance with the Policy.[2] Id. at 17:1-5. Finally, on June 3, 2013, Nelson was terminated by defendant for a failure to change her hairstyle, though she maintains she was in compliance with the Policy. Nelson Aff. ¶ 14.

         Plaintiff filed the instant action in state court on October 9, 2014, bringing claims for violation of the South Carolina Human Affairs Act (“SCHAA”), SC Code Ann. § 1-13-80(A)(1), wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Compl. 12-17. The action was removed to this court on October 31, 2014. Notice of Removal ¶ 4. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on September 23, 2015, arguing that hairstyle restrictions do not violate Title VII. Def.'s Mot. 4-8. Plaintiff responded on November 3, 2015, and defendant replied on November 17, 2015. The magistrate judge issued the R&R on June 28, 2016, recommending the court grant defendant's motion for summary judgment and remand the remaining state law claims to state court. Plaintiff did not file any objection to the R&R within the deadline. Defendant, however, filed an objection to the R&R on June 30, 2016, arguing that the court should address and dismiss plaintiff's state law claims. Def.'s Objection 1-4. Plaintiff filed a reply on July 19, 2016. This matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         A. De Novo Review

         This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's R&R to which specific, written objections are made. 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1). The court may adopt the portions of the R&R to which the petitioner did not object, as a party's failure to object is accepted as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 14-50 (1985). The recommendation of the magistrate judge carries no presumptive weight, and it is this court's responsibility to make a final determination. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976).

         B. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment shall be granted “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). Where a party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to his case, ” Rule 56(a) mandates entry of summary judgment against that party. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party with all justifiable inferences drawn in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         III. ...


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