United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
E. Rogers, III United States Magistrate Judge
action arises out of Plaintiff's employment with the
Richland County Recreation Commission. Plaintiff alleges race
discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. §
2000(e) et seq., violation of the Family Medical
Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.,
and state law causes of action for defamation and civil
conspiracy. Presently before the court is Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss (Document # 5) Plaintiff's claims for
defamation and civil conspiracy. All pretrial proceedings in
this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the
provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local
Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), DSC. This report and recommendation is
entered for review by the district judge.
times relevant to the allegations in the amended complaint,
Plaintiff, an African-American male, was employed by the
Richland County Recreation Commission (RCRC) as the Division
Head of Facility Operations. Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Defendant
Brown is the Executive Director of the RCRC, Defendant
Stringer is the Division Head of Human Resources for the
RCRC, and Defendant Dickerson is the Chief of Staff of the
RCRC. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3-5. Plaintiff has been
employed with the RCRC for approximately fifteen years. Prior
to December of 2015, he reported to the Assistant Executive
Director, who reported to Brown, the Executive Director. Am.
Compl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff alleges that Brown would often
tell him things such as Plaintiff is “too nice and
everyone likes him, ” and that Brown wanted Plaintiff
to “treat them like slaves and whip them into
shape.” Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges that
Brown would often make threats of termination, veiled or
otherwise, in an attempt to encourage Plaintiff to take
certain actions that Brown desired. Brown would tell
Plaintiff to “think about his family” or
“think about his future, ” which Plaintiff
understood as threats of demotion or termination if Plaintiff
did not do what Brown wanted him to do. Plaintiff alleges
that these threats usually occurred in circumstances where
Brown wanted to protect and insulate his family members and
friends that worked at the RCRC. Am. Compl. ¶ 11.
November 30, 2015, Brown called a meeting with Plaintiff and
the Assistant Executive Director, Kenya Bryant, during which
Brown stated that they did not have faith in him anymore. Am.
Compl. ¶ 12. Plaintiff alleges that on December 4, 2015,
Brown told RCRC employees that he would fire both Plaintiff
and Bryant. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. On December 11, 2015, an
investigation into sexual harassment claims made against
Brown began. Stringer informed Plaintiff he would likely be
called as a witness. Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Plaintiff
participated in the investigation upon request, and both
Brown and Stringer were aware that Plaintiff spoke with the
investigator. Am. Compl. ¶ 15.
January 16, 2016, Brown called an unscheduled staff meeting
during which, Plaintiff alleges, he acted hostile and made
threats and inappropriate statements. Plaintiff alleges that
during the meeting Brown announced that the RCRC Board wanted
there to be a buffer between him and the staff and that
Dickerson was promoted to a newly created position of Chief
of Staff. Among other threats and inappropriate statements,
Plaintiff alleges that Brown stated if he witnessed staff
speaking to Plaintiff he would suspend them for five days or
fire them. Am. Compl. ¶ 18. Plaintiff alleges Brown said
a board member told him that “black people don't
listen to black people” and that he needs a white face,
i.e., Dickerson, to “crack the whip” on the black
people. Am. Compl. ¶ 19. Once Dickerson was appointed as
Chief of Staff, Plaintiff began reporting to her instead of
the Assistant Executive Director. Am. Compl. ¶ 20.
alleges that on March 21, 2016, the Board met for their
regularly scheduled meeting and took an executive session to
discuss a personnel matter. No action was taken, but a
special called meeting was scheduled for April 4, 2016. Am.
Compl. ¶ 21. On April 4, 2016, the Board met to discuss
the personnel matter in executive session. Board Member
Furgess motioned to support Brown, which passed with a 5-2
vote. Am. Compl. ¶ 22.
April 5, 2016, Plaintiff was suspended with pay from his
position because of an investigation regarding comments
allegedly made by Plaintiff to another RCRC employee, which
Plaintiff denies, that Brown was about to be terminated due
to videos on social media. Plaintiff's badge, cell phone
and keys were taken and his email was disabled. Plaintiff
alleges that Brown, Stringer, and Dickerson, and others
pressured and threatened an RCRC employee into giving a false
statement about Plaintiff so it could be used to terminate
him. Plaintiff alleges the employee later recanted his
statement and said that it was false. Am. Compl. ¶ 23.
informed Stringer that he would like to meet with his
attorney present to discuss the alleged comment. Plaintiff
alleges that instead of meeting to investigate the comment,
Stringer and Dickerson issued a letter to Plaintiff dated
April 14, 2016, which demoted Plaintiff effective April 22,
2016, from the Division Head of Facility Operations to
Director of Maintenance, where he would work new hours
(7:30-3:30), report to the Maintenance Shop, and wear a
uniform. Stringer and Dickerson gave Plaintiff until 5:00 the
following day to consider the position. Am. Compl. 24.
Plaintiff alleges that he suffered situational anxiety and
depression as a result of his treatment by Defendants, and
his doctor placed him on medical leave beginning April 14,
2016. Am. Compl. ¶ 25.
April 14, 2016, Stringer sent Plaintiff another letter
regarding Plaintiff's medical leave, in which he stated
that Plaintiff was not a “key employee” and RCRC
had not determined that restoring him to employment at the
conclusion of the medical leave would cause substantial and
grievous economic harm to the agency. Am. Compl. ¶ 27.
Plaintiff filed a grievance as to the demotion, stating that
it was unfounded and retaliatory. Am. Compl. ¶ 26.
Plaintiff alleged that the action was merely an excuse for
Defendants to terminate him and further retaliate. Am. Compl.
¶ 28. On May 17, 2015, Plaintiff was notified that he
was now considered a “key employee” under the
FMLA and that reinstating him to the Division Head position
would result in substantial and grievous economic injury to
RCRC operations. They also informed Plaintiff that the
demoted Director position was no longer available. Am. Compl.
alleges that RCRC and Brown and Stringer and other RCRC
officials published false statements to other RCRC employees,
Board members, and others, accusing Plaintiff of spreading
rumors and false information about Brown. Plaintiff alleges
they also accused Plaintiff of insubordination and
incompetence. Am. Compl. ¶ 31.
seek dismissal of Plaintiff's defamation and civil
conspiracy claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule
12(b)(6) motion examines whether Plaintiff has stated a claim
upon which relief can be granted. The United States Supreme
Court has made clear that, under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, the complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is
plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009);
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570,
127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 ...