United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff,
Akebono Brake Corporation, Defendant. Akebono Brake Corporation, Third-Party Plaintiff,
Carolina Personnel Services, Inc., and Carolina Industrial Staffing, Inc., Successor in Interest for Carolina Personnel Services, Inc. Third-Party Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
V. HODGES COLUMBIA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on the motions for judgment on
the pleadings by Carolina Personnel Services, Inc.
(“CPS”) [ECF No. 45], and Carolina Industrial
Staffing, Inc. (“CIS”) [ECF No. 47]. The motions
having been fully briefed [ECF Nos. 54, 55, 56, 58], they are
ripe for disposition. All pretrial proceedings in this case
were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the provisions
of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule
73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.). Because the motions are dispositive,
this report and recommendation is entered for the district
judge's consideration. For the reasons that follow, the
undersigned recommends the district judge grant the motions
for judgment on the pleadings.
filed a Charge of Discrimination raising a claim of religious
discrimination related to her hire by CPS at the direction of
Akebono Brake Corporation (“Akebono”) and her
subsequent termination. [ECF Nos. 14 at ¶ 38;19 at
¶ 6]. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”) filed this case based on the allegations
in the Charge of Discrimination.
EEOC alleges that Akebono enlisted the services of a
temporary labor services provider to meet the operational
needs of its facility located in West Columbia, South
Carolina. [ECF No. 19 at ¶ 17]. Akebono's Third
Party Complaint alleges that CPS was that temporary labor
services provider. [ECF No. 14]. The EEOC further alleges
that Akebono and CPS operated under a Staffing Agreement for
the provision of the labor services and are joint employers
of the individuals CPS recruited and hired to be placed at
Akebono's facility. [ECF No. 19 at ¶ ¶ 18, 25].
The EEOC alleges Akebono is “liable as a joint employer
of Burnett for the discriminatory actions alleged” and
liable for “harm[ing] the employer-employee
relationship between Burnett and [CPS].” Id.
at ¶¶ 26-27. However, the EEOC also alleges that
Akebono is the “sole entity responsible for the
decision to revoke the offer of employment made to Burnett .
. .” Id. at ¶ 41.
second cause of action for an alleged failure to accommodate
Burnett's religious beliefs, the EEOC alleges that CPS
informed someone in Akebono's Human Resources Department
about Burnett's religious belief regarding an inability
to wear pants. Id. at ¶ 48. Akebono has
expressly denied that this alleged conversation took place.
[ECF No. 21 at ¶ 48]. The EEOC has not alleged that
Burnett herself had any communication or contact with
Akebono; but rather all communication with regard to Burnett
came through CPS. [ECF No. 19, ¶¶ 37-39, 48].
and CPS entered into a contract in which CPS promised to (1)
handle and resolve all complaints or issues reported by
Assigned Employees [ECF No. 14 at ¶ 17]; (2) provide
support to [Akebono] for any issues regarding [CPS]
associated and Assigned Employees, id. at ¶ 18;
(3) communicate proactively with [Akebono] and Recruiter, and
provide 24-hour access to Account and Operations Managers,
id. at ¶ 19; (4) immediately notify [Akebono]
of any allegations of discrimination or harassment made to,
or made known to [CPS] or filed with a federal, state, county
or municipal court or any federal, state, or local
administrative agency by a current or former Assigned
Employee allegedly occurring in connection with an Assigned
Employee's assignment under this Agreement, id.
at ¶ 20; and (5) cooperate fully and to provide
assistance to the other party in the investigation and
resolution of any complaints, claims, actions, or proceedings
that may be brought or that any way involve Assigned
Employees [Section 13 of the Agreement], id. at
filed a third-party complaint against CPS and CIS, raising
claims of breach of contract, breach of implied duty of good
faith and fair dealing, equitable indemnification,
contribution, and promissory estoppel. [ECF No. 14]. Akebono
alleges that CPS breached its contract by, inter alia,
failing to properly inform and notify Akebono that there
existed potential issues related to religious discrimination
and religious accommodation related to Burnett's efforts
to seek and obtain employment with CPS. Id. at
¶ 52. Akebono's claims against CIS arise out of the
dissolution and sale of CPS to CIS during the pendency of
Burnett's allegations against CPS and Akebono before the
EEOC. Id. at ¶ 40. Akebono alleges that CIS
acquired or otherwise became legally responsible for
CPS's liabilities, including any liabilities arising out
of CPS's agreement with Akebono. Id. at ¶
pleadings are closed, a party may move for judgment on the
pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “A motion for judgment
on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is assessed under the same
standards as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).”
Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 115 (4th
Cir. 2013). To withstand a motion for judgment on the
pleadings, a complaint must contain facts sufficient to
“state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 570, (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
679 (2009). Mere “labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
“In resolving a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) or
Rule 12(c), a district court may . . . consider a
‘written instrument' attached as an exhibit to a
pleading.” Occupy Columbia, 738 F.3d at 116.
Under Rule 10(c) “[a] copy of a written instrument that
is an exhibit to a pleading is part of the pleading for all
purposes.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c).
CIS both argue that Akebono's third-party claims are
preempted by “obstacle preemption.” The doctrine
of obstacle preemption prescribes that state law claims are
preempted when they “‘stand as an obstacle to
the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and
objectives of Congress.'” Freightliner Corp. v.
Myrick, 514 U.S. 280, 287 (1995) (quoting Hines v.
Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941)). Under Fourth
Circuit precedent, liability-shifting claims are preempted
when allowing the defendant to shift its liability to someone
else would frustrate the regulatory scheme created by
Congress in the underlying federal statute. Equal Rights
Ctr. v. Niles Bolton Assocs., 602 F.3d 597, 601 (4th
Cir. 2010). Preemption is particularly appropriate when the
statute at issue provides a comprehensive regulatory scheme
designed to promote and incentivize compliance with federal
law. Id. at 601-02.
response, Akebono argues that it “does not seek to
shift its entire liability because the Amended Complaint
contains allegations, which if proven, would subject Akebono
to liability for CPS' conduct.” [ECF No. 54 at 11].
Specifically, Akebono notes one allegation in the amended
complaint-“[CSP] did not offer Burnett alternative
employment opportunities following the revocation of the
offer to work in [Akebono's] West Columbia