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Yin v. Columbia International University

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

September 26, 2016

Lishu Yin, Plaintiff,
v.
Columbia International University, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff 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.)

         This 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).[1] 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.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION

         The 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.

         Founded in 1923, Defendant is a private, multi-denominational Christian institution of higher education located in Columbia, South Carolina. CIU, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ 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 (“TESOL”). Id.

         Plaintiff, 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.)

         On 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. (Id.)

         On 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).)

         On 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.)

         On 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.)

         On 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.)

         After 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 ...


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