United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Lishu Yin (“Plaintiff”) filed this action pro se
against her former employer, Defendant Columbia International
University (“Defendant”), alleging that she was
subjected to discrimination based on her race, sex, and
national origin and retaliation, all in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title
VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17. (ECF No.
1 at 36.) Plaintiff also alleges a claim for pay
discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963
(“EPA”), 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), and defamation
under state law. (Id.)
matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss (ECF No. 20) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure and/or Motion to Strike
(id.) pursuant to Rule 12(f). Defendant moves
for dismissal on the basis that Plaintiff's claims are
barred by the ministerial exception, which is a First
Amendment doctrine that precludes claims brought by ministers
of a church. (ECF No. 20-1 at 9-10.) 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 April 11, 2016,
the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in
which she recommended that the court grant Defendant's
Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claim for defamation, but
deny the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII and EPA
claims and the Motion to Strike. (ECF No. 40 at 19.) Both
Plaintiff and Defendant filed Objections to the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation, which Objections are
presently before the court. (ECF Nos. 43, 44.) For the
reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate
Judge's recommendation and GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN
PART Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and DENIES
Defendant's Motion to Strike.
RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION
facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and
Recommendation. (See ECF No. 40 at 1-6.) 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 facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff
that are pertinent to the analysis of her claims.
in 1923, Defendant is a private, multi-denominational
Christian institution of higher education located in
Columbia, South Carolina. CIU,
ColumbiaInternationalUniversity (last visited Sept.
22, 2016). Defendant offers a variety of degrees including a
Graduate Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign
Language (“TEFL”) and a Master of Arts in
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
an Asian-American, has a Doctor of Philosophy in curriculum
and instruction with a minor in instructional technology from
Mississippi State University. (ECF No. 1-2 at 1.) On July 1,
2008, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a full-time resident
faculty member for the TEFL program. (ECF No. 1 at 8.)
Beginning in March 2011, Plaintiff alleges she started having
problems with white faculty members who excluded her from
TEFL program meetings, changed the TEFL curriculum, and gave
away two of Plaintiff's courses to less qualified white
individuals. (Id. at 8-9 ¶ 3.) On April 4,
2011, Plaintiff alleges that she complained to two
individuals, Dean Dr. Milton Uecker and Dr. Connie Mitchell.
(Id. at 9 ¶ 4.) “With tears, . . .
[Plaintiff] addressed to both Uecker and Mitchell that the
reason she was mistreated was because of her race and
national origin.” (Id.)
April 11, 2011, Dr. Uecker told Plaintiff about the creation
of the new TESOL program in the College of Education.
(Id. at 10 ¶ 5.) After transferring from the
TEFL program, Plaintiff served as a “major professor of
TESOL.” (Id.) Soon thereafter, Dr. Uecker
resigned and Dr. Mitchell became the Dean of the College of
Education. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that once Dr.
Mitchell became dean, she began mistreating Plaintiff.
March 22, 2012, Dr. Mitchell told Plaintiff about a proposed
merger of the TESOL and TEFL programs. (Id. at
¶ 7.) Plaintiff alleges that she was inappropriately
excluded from the merger planning meetings. (Id.) On
April 10, 2012, Defendant's Provost Jim Lanpher told
Plaintiff that a final decision on the merger had not
occurred. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant “placed misleading statements in the Graduate
Programs Academic Catalog to confuse prospective students and
lure them into the TEFL program, and away from . . .
[Plaintiff's] TESOL program, which at the time was
enjoying better enrollment.” (ECF No. 40 at 3
(referencing ECF No. 1 at 11 ¶ 10).)
March 1, 2013, Defendant offered Plaintiff a contract that
contained language requiring her to “agree to waive her
right to a civil trial . . . .” (ECF No. 1 at 12 ¶
11.) “In the spring of 2013, the College of Education .
. . hired two new faculty members, both white, despite having
a budget for only one new faculty member.” (ECF No. 40
at 3 (referencing ECF No. 1 at 12 ¶ 14).) Plaintiff
alleges that “[f]rom this point on, Mitchell began to
publically and privately humiliate, threaten, and mistreat .
. . [Plaintiff], the only female minority professor/employee
in the College of Education.” (ECF No. 1 at 12 ¶
14.) “On September 20, 2013, at the end of a
Dissertation Committee meeting, Dr. Mitchell dismissed . . .
[Plaintiff] from the committee in front of its other
members.” (ECF No. 40 at 4 (referencing ECF No. 1 at 13
¶ 15).) “Dr. Mitchell stated that . . .
[Plaintiff] was no longer needed because the two newly hired
faculty members could take her place.” (Id.)
September 30, 2013, Plaintiff met with Dr. Mitchell for
Plaintiff's annual faculty evaluation. Plaintiff
describes her meeting with Dr. Mitchell as follows:
Mitchell revenged . . . [Plaintiff] by writing untruthful
statements on . . . [Plaintiff's] faculty evaluation
regarding the working relationship with TEFL . . .
[Plaintiff] refused to sign the evaluation form and requested
Mitchell to give a specific example. Mitchell yelled at . . .
[Plaintiff] and threatened her, ‘if you don't sign
it, you will see what [Provost] Jim Lanpher will do to
you.' After she slammed . . . [Plaintiff's] door and
left, a . . . [Defendant's] employee walked into . . .
[Plaintiff's] office and saw . . . [Plaintiff] tearing up
at her desk . . . . [Plaintiff] told him that she did not
want to work there anymore. He prayed for . . . [Plaintiff].
(ECF No. 1 at 13 ¶ 16.)
October 2, 2013, Plaintiff alleges that she complained about
mistreatment received based on her sex, race, and national
origin to Provost Lanpher. (ECF No. 1 at 5, 13-14.) On
January 23, 2014, Plaintiff learned from Dr. Mitchell that
Defendant was not going to renew her contract and was
eliminating the TESOL program. (Id. at 15-16 ¶
24.) On February 6, 2014, Defendant's President, William
H. Jones, sent correspondence to Plaintiff officially
acknowledging her termination as follows:
It is with sadness that I inform you that your appointment to
the position of Program Director for the Master of Arts in
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
program will not be renewed for the fiscal year 2014-2015,
and you will not be offered a faculty contract. As the Dean
of the College of Education Dr. Connie Mitchell explained to
you on January 23, 2014 the MA TESOL program is being
eliminated. As a result, your employment with Columbia
International University (CIU) will end on June 30, 2014.
(ECF No. 1-2 at 81.)
learning about the termination of her employment, Plaintiff
filed a Charge of Discrimination (the “Charge”)
with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”) and the South Carolina Human
Affairs Commission (“SCHAC”) on May 15, 2014.
(ECF No. 1-2 at 39.) In the Charge, Plaintiff alleged that
she was discriminated against because of her race, sex, and
national origin and retaliated against in violation of Title
VII. (Id.) After receiving notice of the right to
sue from the EEOC as to the Charge, Plaintiff filed an action
in this court on September 11, 2015, alleging claims for
race, sex, national origin, and pay discrimination,
retaliation, and defamation. (ECF No. 1 at 35.) In response
to Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendant filed its Motion to
Dismiss and/or Motion to Strike on November 9, 2015. (ECF No.
20.) Plaintiff filed her Response in ...