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
sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. §
2000(e) et seq. as well as state law causes of
action for defamation and civil conspiracy. Presently before
the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Document #
30) 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 set forth in the amended
complaint, Plaintiff was employed as the Division Head of
Financial Operations for the Richland County Recreation
Commission (RCRC). 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 Defendants
Green and Mickens serve on the board for the RCRC. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 3-6. Prior to December 2015, the Plaintiff
reported to the Assistant Executive Director who then
reported to Defendant Brown, the Executive Director. Am.
Compl. ¶ 12. Plaintiff alleges that Brown sexually
harassed her on numerous occasions and that she complained to
Stringer in human resources to no avail. Am. Compl.
2014, the board received anonymous letters complaining about
Brown and the RCRC, but Brown made it clear that he had at
least four votes on the board to avoid any action against
him. He stated that he helped Green and Mickens financially
and that other members of the board, Furgess and Martin, were
on his side. On September 22, 2014, a motion was passed by a
5-2 vote to hire an attorney to conduct an investigation of
Brown. However, Martin and Furgess later rescinded their vote
and a new motion to rescind the earlier decision for an
investigation, passed by a 4-3 vote. Brown told Plaintiff
that he was the most powerful man in South Carolina and could
not be touched. Am. Compl. ¶ 17.
September of 2015, Plaintiff refused to sign a blank purchase
order for Erica Smalls, the Human Resources Manager. Soon
thereafter, Brown directed that all purchase orders should go
to him. Plaintiff met with Brown to voice her concerns over
the arrangement and her concerns that Brown was telling
others that she and her supervisor were having an
inappropriate relationship. Brown told Plaintiff it hurt his
feelings when she went into her supervisor's office, and
issued a directive that the supervisor was not to go into
Plaintiff's office. Am. Compl. ¶ 18.
continued to make false comments that Plaintiff was having an
inappropriate relationship with her supervisor and that she
refused to speak to Brown and attempted to get one of
Plaintiff's subordinates to make negative comments about
Plaintiff. Am. Compl. ¶ 19-20. In December of 2015,
Brown removed the finance department from under her current
supervisor and placed it directly under himself. He also
continued to approach Plaintiff's subordinate, who
complained to Stringer that she did not want to be involved.
The subordinate was then called into a meeting with Stringer
and Brown, during which Brown continued to make statements
regarding an inappropriate relationship between Plaintiff and
her former supervisor and tried to get the subordinate to say
that Plaintiff was mistreating her. Am. Compl. ¶ 21. On
numerous occasions, Brown made false statements regarding an
intimate relationship between Plaintiff and her former
supervisor to other RCRC employees and board members. Am.
Compl. ¶ 22. Plaintiff filed a written complaint with
Stringer in December of 2015, alleging a hostile work
environment, sexual harassment, retaliation, defamation, and
being asked to do things contrary to RCRC policies and
procedures that were not in RCRC's best interests. Am.
Compl. ¶ 23.
hired a third party attorney, Linda Edwards, to investigate
the complaints against Brown. Edwards interviewed Plaintiff
and many other employees regarding the allegations against
Brown. The report was presented to the board and the board
passed a vote of confidence in favor of Brown by a 5-2 vote.
Both Green and Mickens have acted openly hostile toward
Plaintiff since December of 2015. Am. Compl. ¶¶
January of 2016, Brown called a staff meeting, during which
he stated that the board wanted to have a buffer between
Brown and the staff, and Tara Dickerson was promoted to a
newly created position of Chief of Staff. Am. Compl. ¶
26. Thereafter, Brown and Stringer began questioning why the
Foundation, the fund raising arm of the RCRC, reported to
Plaintiff. Brown and Stringer began calling Plaintiff's
staff, intimidating them about the Foundation and saying that
they, along with Green, were going to start coming to the
Foundation's board meetings. On February 8, 2016, Brown
directed that the Foundation would no longer report to
Plaintiff but to Dickerson. Am. Compl. ¶ 30.
took FMLA leave beginning May 19, 2016, with the intent to
return on June 9, 2016. During her leave, Plaintiff received
a letter from the RCRC stating that it may refuse to
reinstate her to her position at the conclusion of her leave.
As a result, Plaintiff returned to work early, on May 26,
2016. Am. Compl. ¶ 33.
Enforcement began an investigation into Brown and others
related to the RCRC. In June of 2016, the Richland County
Council advised that they would withhold funding (over what
is required by law) from the RCRC until an external,
independant audit is conducted. Despite the investigation and
allegations of misconduct, Brown remained in his position as
Executive Director. On June 21, 2016, the Richland County
Legislation Delegation recommended that Brown be placed on
suspension with pay pending the investigations. On June 30,
2016, the media reported complaints made by a whistleblower,
which included allegations of sexual comments, bullying, and
nepotism. Brown took a leave of absence with pay beginning
July 1, 2016. On July 8, 2016, Plaintiff was informed that
she was being placed on leave of absence with pay beginning
July 11, 2016, the time the audit of the RCRC was scheduled
to begin. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 35-36.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 ...