United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
De Novo Review
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).
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