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Cooper v. Richland County Recreation Commission

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

November 2, 2016

ANTHONY A. COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHLAND COUNTY RECREATION COMMISSION, JAMES BROWN, III, DAVID STRINGER, and TARA DICKERSON, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Thomas E. Rogers, III United States Magistrate Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 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., and state law causes of action for defamation, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and public policy discharge. Presently before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Document # 5) Plaintiff's claims for defamation, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and public policy discharge. 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.

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         At all times relevant to the allegations set forth in the amended complaint, Plaintiff was employed as the Director of Procurement for the Richland County Recreation Commission (RCRC). Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff began his employment with RCRC in 1996 and was terminated on June 29, 2016. Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Plaintiff reported to Ronnie Kinnett, Division Head of Property Management, until Kinnett retired in late 2015. Am. Compl. ¶ 13.

         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.

         In 2008, Richland County Council approved $50 million in recreation bonds (“the Bond”) to be administered by RCRC. Plaintiff's duties included overseeing the Bond and purchasing and procurement for the same. Plaintiff participated in the Ad-Hoc committee for the Bond, which made a decision not to take action on a request made by a construction management company to extend its services. Defendant Brown as well as two members of the RCRC Board, Marie Green and Barbara Mickens, were aware of this decision and were not pleased because they favored the company. Am. Compl. ¶ 12.

         Plaintiff alleges that Brown has threatened Plaintiff with termination and exhibited animosity towards Plaintiff on several occasions. As an example, Plaintiff alleges that Brown made sexual advances toward Plaintiff's wife and then accused Plaintiff of spreading rumors about the incident. Plaintiff alleges that, on another occasion, Plaintiff's son was hurt by an RCRC staff member while participating in an RCRC event and Brown failed to take appropriate action against the staff member yet suspended Plaintiff's son. Am. Compl. ¶ 14.

         As part of his job responsibilities, with the guidance of the RCRC Procurement Policy and the South Carolina Consolidated Procurement Code, Plaintiff worked towards getting the best price that is fair and reasonable when procuring goods and services for the Bond. He alleges that Brown made it apparent that he did not appreciate that Plaintiff worked diligently to follow policies and often would want Plaintiff to deviate from the accepted standards. Am. Compl. ¶ 15.

         Plaintiff alleges that in November or December of 2015, Brown made comments to other RCRC personnel and others that he was going to terminate Plaintiff's employment as soon as the Bond projects were completed and that Plaintiff does not favor black people and is an “undercover white boy” and a “house n****r.” Am. Compl. ¶ 18.

         In anticipation of Kinnett's retirement, the Division Head of Property Management position was posted and Plaintiff applied in early 2015. Plaintiff received a letter dated February 11, 2016, from Defendant Stringer informing him that the position was offered to an “incumbent employee.” Bryan Crider, a Caucasian male, was awarded the position. Am. Compl. ¶ 19.

         On 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[1] wanted there to be a buffer between him and the staff and that Tara Dickerson was promoted to a newly created position of Chief of Staff. Among other threats and inappropriate statements, Plaintiff alleges that Brown stated that he was too good to the staff and they made too much money, specifically referring to Plaintiff, but that was going to change. Brown also allegedly stated that if the staff did not like the way things were around RCRC, they could just quit, reminding them that South Carolina is an at-will state. Am. Compl. ¶ 20. Plaintiff alleges Brown said a board member, Marie Green, 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. ¶ 21.

         Plaintiff alleges that Brown, Stringer, and Dickerson have continued efforts to target Plaintiff. He alleges that since Dickerson was appointed as Chief of Staff in January of 2016, Plaintiff has been excluded from certain functions and isolated. He alleges that his job duties have been taken away and disbursed to other employees. After being denied the Division Head of Property Management position in February of 2016, Plaintiff alleges that he has been excluded from several Bond-related bid processes of which he should have been included as Director of Procurement. Plaintiff alleges that he has been overly scrutinized and monitored in an effort to find a basis to terminate his employment. Am. Compl. ¶ 22.

         On April 18, 2016, Plaintiff was given a verbal counseling for what he alleges was an unfounded complaint concerning Plaintiff's driving of an RCRC vehicle, which Plaintiff denies. He alleges that other employees have received complaints in the past and were not formally disciplined. He alleges that RCRC employees outside Plaintiff's chain of command or Human Resources were told about the disciplinary action before Plaintiff. Am. Compl. ¶ 23.

         Plaintiff alleges that law enforcement began an investigation of Brown and others related to RCRC, and Plaintiff complied with the investigators. He was told to report any additional information to them. At one point Plaintiff went to the dumpster to empty his office trash can where he noticed shredded documents that appeared to include purchase orders and other out-of-place documents. Plaintiff reported this to the investigators, who he believes took the shredded documents from the trash that same day. Am. Compl. ¶ 24. In early June of 2016, the Richland County Council advised that they would withhold from RCRC the funding over what was required by law for the upcoming fiscal year until an audit was conducted. Am. Compl. ¶ 25.

         Despite the allegations of misconduct and investigation, Brown remained in his position as Executive Director instead of being placed on leave during the pendency of the investigation. On June 21, 2016, the Richland County Legislative Delegation voted to recommend to the RCRC Board that Brown be placed on suspension ...


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