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Jones v. Eaton Corp.

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

March 31, 2017

Justin Jones, Plaintiff,
v.
Eaton Corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Justin Jones (“Jones” or “Plaintiff”) filed this action against his former employer, Defendant Eaton Corporation (“Defendant” or “Eaton”), alleging that he was subjected to gender discrimination by sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17. (ECF No. 1-1 at 9 ¶ 33-11 ¶ 50.)

         This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 36) and Motion to Dismiss for Spoliation of Evidence, or alternatively, for Other Appropriate Sanctions (“Spoliation Motion”) (ECF No. 37). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) D.S.C., the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pretrial handling. On February 9, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 57) in which she recommended that the court grant Defendant's Rule[1] 56 Motion and dismiss as moot its Spoliation Motion. (Id. at 44.) Plaintiff filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, which Objections are presently before the court. (ECF No. 59.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES AS MOOT Defendant's Spoliation Motion.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND OF THE MATTER

         The facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 57.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein additional facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff that are pertinent to the analysis of his claims.

         Defendant is “a power management company” that provides its customers with energy-efficient solutions to “effectively manage electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power more efficiently, safely and sustainably.” Eaton, http://www.eaton.com/Eaton/OurCompany/AboutUs/ index.htm (last visited Mar. 30, 2017). At its Sumter, South Carolina plant, Defendant manufactures “low voltage panelboards and switchboards for commercial and industrial applications.” Id. at http://www.eaton.com/Eaton/OurCompany/NewsEvents/NewsReleases/ PCT1651964 (last visited Mar. 30, 2017).

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant as an intern at its Sumter plant in June 2011. (ECF No. 37-2 at 28.) During his internship, Plaintiff was mentored by Kelvin McGraw (“McGraw”), Defendant's technical services manager. (Id. at 28-29.) However, starting in December 2011, McGraw began sending nude pictures to Plaintiff and asking for nude pictures from him. (Id. at 29-30.)

         On May 7, 2012, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a switchboard technician. (ECF No. 36-2 at 2:12-21.) The primary function or purpose of a switchboard technician is to “[a]ccurately interpret customer supplied drawings, specifications and notes and translate them into drawings and bills-of-materials for internal customers in Manufacturing and Purchasing, as well as external customers.” (ECF No. 36-2 at 68.) As a switchboard technician, Plaintiff's direct supervisor was McGraw. (ECF No. 36-3 at 1 ¶ 3.) McGraw reported to Steve Catoe, the front end and supply chain manager. (ECF No. 36-2 at 11:15-18; see also ECF No. 36-4 at 1 ¶ 1.)

         On June 4, 2012, Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of Defendant's Employee Guidebook. (ECF Nos. 36-2 at 3:5-14 & 65.) The Employee Guidebook contained a Harassment Free Workplace policy that provided the following detailed procedure for reporting harassment:

1. Report the alleged act immediately to his or her supervisor, Human Resources Manager, the senior manager on site, or the Division Human Resources Manager. This notification must be confirmed in writing including the date the complaint is submitted; the name(s) of the alleged violator(s) of this policy, and the name and signature of the person submitting the complaint. The person taking the complaint can assist in completing this step.
2. Steps will be taken to begin an immediate investigation. All complaints will be investigated in a timely and confidential manner.
3. If the investigation results in a reasonable belief that harassment has occurred, action designed to stop the harassment will be taken. Based upon the facts discovered in the investigation, appropriate action could include, but is not limited to, reassignment, transfer, reprimand, suspension, or other disciplinary action up to and including discharge. Non-employees who violate this policy risk the loss of visitor privileges.

(ECF No. 36-3 at 7.)

         In October 2012, “McGraw hacked into Plaintiff's mobile telephone and sent threatening text messages to a woman Plaintiff had met in a bar.” (ECF No. 57 at 11 (summarizing ECF No. 37-2 at 31).) “When Plaintiff confronted McGraw, he admitted to having hacked into the phone and having sent the emails, but he apologized and ‘begged [Plaintiff] not to take this to human resources.'” (Id. (summarizing ECF No. 37-2 at 31).)

         On April 9, 2013, McGraw gave Plaintiff a performance evaluation rating of P3 for the period May 2012 to December 2012.[2] (ECF No. 36-2 at 69.) In the evaluation's manager comments section, McGraw provided the following observations:

Justin is becoming a very valuable member of the team. He has displayed leadership skills with owning the daily production schedule. Justin needs to be more proactive when it comes to designing new parts. Since he has been onboard, Justin has learned to process FDS/MF orders in addition to the skills needed to create special parts for the CMSC organization. As discussed during several coaching sessions, Justin needs to focus on his productivity and his designing skills. Justin has the potential to become the go-to person for MI generation.

Id.

         On December 16, 2013, Plaintiff went to see Catoe and provided him with a written complaint (ECF No. 37-2 at 28-33) outlining Plaintiff's allegations of harassment by McGraw.[3](ECF Nos. 36-2 at 23:10-24:2 & 36-3 at 1 ¶ 4.) A few minutes later after his initial visit with Catoe, Plaintiff met with Catoe and Detra Mardis, Defendant's human resources manager, to discuss the McGraw situation. (ECF No. 36-2 at 24:4-25.) As a result of Plaintiff's complaint, McGraw was terminated on December 18, 2013, for violation of company policy. (Id. at 25:13- 15; see also ECF No. 36-3 at 1-2 ¶ 4.) After he made the complaint, Plaintiff did not experience any other sexual harassment during his employment with Defendant. (ECF No. 36-2 at 26:25- 27:6.) Thereafter, on December 19, 2013, Mardis sent Plaintiff an advisory letter stating in large part as follows:

We appreciate that you raised concerns regarding allegations of inappropriate behavior and communications of an Eaton manager. We take all concerns of this nature seriously, with appropriate action per Eaton's Code of Ethics and Values and Philosophy. A thorough internal investigation was conducted, and a resolution has been implemented based upon careful consideration of the facts.
Through the course of the investigation, we identified several issues that we want to address with you to ensure you are clear on Eaton's Code of Ethics and Values and Philosophy, including your obligation as an Eaton employee should you be confronted with a similar situation in the future.

(ECF No. 40-7 at 2.)

         Catoe began supervising Plaintiff after McGraw's termination. (ECF No. 36-4 at 2 ¶ 6.) On March 18, 2014, Catoe gave Plaintiff a performance evaluation rating of N3, or “needs improvement.” (ECF No. 40-8 at 2.) “The three areas where Jones' performance were [sic] subpar was quality of production, quantity of production, and internal customer service.” (ECF No. 36-4 at 2 ¶ 6.)

         On or about May 1, 2014, Defendant selected La'Tonya Porter to replace McGraw as Technical Services Manager and moved Andrew Heilman to a Team Leader position operating as Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (ECF No. 36-3 at 2 ¶ 6.) On June 27, 2014, Catoe provided Plaintiff with a Letter of Concern (ECF No. 40-10 at 4-5) and Performance Improvement Plan (id. at 3) (“PIP”) as a result of continuing performance problems. (ECF Nos. 36-3 at 2 ¶ 7 & 36-4 at 2 ¶ 7.) In response, Plaintiff raised concerns to Mardis that “Porter had a personal friendship with McGraw and that she was targeting him because Jones' complaint had led to McGraw's separation.” (ECF No. 36-3 at 2 ¶ 7) As a result, Defendant removed Porter and Heilman from further decisions regarding Plaintiff's PIP. (Id.)

         On August 12, 2014, Mardis and Catoe terminated Plaintiff's employment because his “performance failed to improve despite the PIP objectives.” (ECF No. 36-3 at 3 ¶ 9.) Porter was not involved in the decision to terminate Plaintiff, nor did she provide any input regarding it.” (ECF No. 36-4 at 3 ¶ 9.)

         On January 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination (the “Charge”) with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (ECF No. 37-2 at 26:23-27:20 & 34.) In the Charge, Plaintiff alleged that he suffered discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII and checked boxes for “Retaliation” and “Sex.” (Id.) He stated the following particulars:

I was employed by the above named employer since June 2011 and assigned as a Switchboard Technician. On or about June 27, 2014, I complained I was subjected to sexual harassment, by Kevin McGraw; Manager. After McGraw's discharge, I was placed on a Performance ...

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