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Acosta v. Hilton Grand Vacations Company, LLC

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

March 30, 2017

Laura Acosta, Plaintiff,
Hilton Grand Vacations Company, LLC; Mark Lamonica; Defendants.


          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

         This case was originally filed in the Court of Common Pleas for Horry County, South Carolina. Initially, Plaintiff, Laura Acosta, alleged the following claims against the Defendants: 1) hostile work environment; 2) sexual harassment/sexual discrimination; 3) retaliation; 4) age discrimination; 5) disability discrimination; 6) violation of the South Carolina Wages Act, SC Code Ann. § 41-10-10, et seq.; 7) breach of contract; 8) violation of privacy rights; and 9) defamation. Defendants removed the case to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, on February 2, 2015.

         The Court previously dismissed Plaintiff's cause of action for breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; dismissed Plaintiff's cause of action for violation of her privacy rights to the extent it alleged HIPAA violations; and partially dismissed Plaintiff's breach of contract cause of action but allowed Plaintiff to go forward on a breach of contract claim for failure to follow a progressive discipline policy. Plaintiff has also withdrawn her claims for age discrimination, violation of the South Carolina Wages Act, invasion of privacy, and defamation. Plaintiff has indicated her consent to the dismissal of her breach of contract claim in its entirety and the dismissal of Defendant Mark Lamonica. See [ECF No. 75, pg. 13].

         Plaintiff's remaining claims against Defendant Hilton Grand Vacations, LLC (“Hilton”) are: 1) hostile work environment; 2) sexual harassment/sex discrimination; 3) retaliation; and 4) disability discrimination.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' [ECF No. 59] motion for summary judgment. This matter is before the Court with the Report and Recommendation [ECF No. 74] of Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West filed on January 23, 2017.[1] The Magistrate Judge recommended that Hilton's motion for summary judgment be granted. The Magistrate Judge also recommended that any claims against Mark Lamonica or Kevin Kahler be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Rule 41.

         Standard of Review

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the R & R to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The right to de novo review may be waived by the failure to file timely objections. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Id. Moreover, in the absence of objections to the R & R, the Court is not required to give any explanation for adopting the recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). However, in the absence of objections, the Court must “‘satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (2010). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). When no genuine issue of any material fact exists, summary judgment is appropriate. See Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1011 (4th Cir. 1991). The facts and inferences to be drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. However, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         "Once the moving party has met [its] burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with some evidence beyond the mere allegations contained in the pleadings to show that there is a genuine issue for trial." Baber v. Hospital Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992). The nonmoving party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, unsupported speculation, or conclusory allegations to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Baber, 977 F.2d at 875. Rather, the nonmoving party is required to submit evidence of specific facts by way of affidavits, depositions, interrogatories, or admissions to demonstrate the existence of a genuine and material factual issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff was hired by Defendant Hilton on February 27, 2012, as a Sales Executive at Anderson Ocean Club. Plaintiff's duties included selling Hilton timeshare products to potential customers, meeting with Hilton guests, and providing tours/sales presentations to Hilton guests. Plaintiff's immediate supervisor was Senior Sales Manager Kevin Kahler. Mark Lamonica was at a level of supervision above both Kevin Kahler and Plaintiff. Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination primarily involve allegations about Kevin Kahler's conduct. Plaintiff testified that she had no complaints about her treatment by any Hilton employee other than Kahler.

         In paperwork Plaintiff completed as part of her employment with Hilton, Plaintiff self identified as belonging to the “White (Not Hispanic or Latino)” ethnic group. [ECF No. 59-8]. Plaintiff also indicated that she was not a disabled individual. Id. Plaintiff suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes but testified that neither condition affected her ability to perform her job duties. [Plaintiff's deposition, ECF No. 59-6, pg. 7-8, (depo. pg. 69-70)].

         Plaintiff alleges that she had “good numbers” during her employment with Hilton and made over $78, 000.00 in 8 months. [Plaintiff's Affidavit, ECF No. 71-3, ¶ 8]. Plaintiff alleges she sold to an average of seven out of ten clients. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that she was consistently in the top 15 of 60 performers and was regularly awarded bonuses. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.

         Plaintiff claims Kahler made negative comments to her including that she was the “token Yankee, ” that if she lost some weight she may get a man, and that she was not Hilton material. Id. at ¶ 10. Plaintiff testified in her deposition that Kahler, on one occasion, made an inappropriate comment regarding her breasts. [Plaintiff's deposition, ECF No. 59-6, pg. 56, (depo. pg. 224-25)]. On another occasion, Kahler asked Plaintiff if she celebrated Cinco de Mayo. Id. at pg. 21 (depo. pg. 100). Plaintiff alleges Kahler made comments regarding her hair color, religion, and Hispanic heritage. [Plaintiff's Affidavit, ECF No. 71-3, ¶ 10]. According to Plaintiff, Kahler's constant commentary made her work environment hostile. Id.

         Plaintiff complained to one of her supervisors, Richard Fife, about Kahler's treatment of her. [Plaintiff's deposition, ECF No. 59-6, pg. 18-19, (depo. pg. 97-98)]. Plaintiff later complained to Lauren Hlavaty, Senior Human Resources Manager, and Mark Lamonica. Id. at pg. 22-25 (depo pg. 101-104). After her complaints to Hlavaty, Plaintiff testified that Kahler's harassment stopped and her work environment improved. Id. at pg. 61 (depo. pg. 232).

         Plaintiff testified that Kahler “was an equal opportunity jerk” and was rude and degrading to both male and female employees on a regular basis. [Plaintiff's deposition, ECF No. 59-6, pg. 28, (depo. pg. 113)]. Lauren Hlavaty, Senior Human Resources Manager for Hilton, confirmed that she had received complaints about Kahler's rude and degrading behavior from both male and female employees. [Lauren Hlavaty deposition, ECF No. 59-10, pg. 7, 14 (depo pgs. 41, 66)].

         Plaintiff states she suffers from a heart condition and required surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome and a breast reduction and that based on these medical conditions, she was treated differently. [Plaintiff's Affidavit, ECF No. 71-3, ¶¶ 15-16].

         On May 6, 2013, Randy Devaux (Director Hotel Operations, Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort) contacted Gabriel Armstrong (Hilton's Senior Marketing Manager) to inform him that two guests had reported that Plaintiff made disparaging remarks about the Hilton Myrtle Beach during a tour at the Anderson Ocean Club. [Devaux email, ECF ...

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