United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
filed this case as an employment discrimination action. The
matter is before the Court for review of the Report and
Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge
suggesting Defendant's motion for summary judgment be
denied as to Plaintiff Odom's retaliation claim and
granted as to all other claims. The Report was made in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule
73.02 for the District of South Carolina.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this 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 (1976).
The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of
those portions of the Report 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 with instructions. 28 U.S.C. §
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on February 16, 2017,
Defendant filed its objections on March 22, 2017, Plaintiffs
filed their objections on March 23, 2017, Plaintiffs filed
their response on April 4, 2017, and Defendant filed its
response on April 5, 2017. The Court has carefully reviewed
the parties' voluminous submissions, but holds the
arguments contained therein to be without merit. Therefore,
it will enter judgment accordingly.
Defendant maintains "[t]he Magistrate Judge erred in
finding that [Plaintiff] Odom established a prima facie case
of adverse employment action required to present her
retaliation claim to a jury." Defendant's Objections
5 (internal quotation marks omitted).
instance such as this when the plaintiff lacks direct
evidence of her retaliation claims, the burden-shifting
framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) applies. The McDonnell
Douglas framework involves three steps: (1) the
plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of
retaliation; (2) the burden of production then shifts to the
employer to articulate a non-retaliatory reason for the
adverse action; and (3) the burden then shifts back to the
plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the
stated reason for the adverse employment action is a pretext
and that the true reason is retaliatory. See Tex.
Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248,
establish a prima facie case of retaliation, the plaintiff
must demonstrate "(i) that she engaged in protected
activity, (ii) that her employer took adverse action against
her, and (iii) that a causal relationship existed between the
protected activity and the adverse employment
activity.” Foster v. Univ. of Md.BE. Shore,
787 F.3d 243, 250 (4th Cir. 2015). The Supreme Court defines
an adverse action in this context to be something that
"might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or
supporting a charge of discrimination." Burlington
N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68
(2006) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Court notes "the significance of any given act of
retaliation will often depend upon the particular
circumstances." Id. at 69. In other words,
"[c]ontext matters. The real social impact of workplace
behavior often depends on a constellation of surrounding
circumstances, expectations, and relationships . . . not
fully captured by a simple recitation of the words used or
the physical acts performed. . . . [A]n act that would be
immaterial in some situations is material in others."
Id. (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks
omitted). "Whether a particular reassignment is
materially adverse depends upon the circumstances of the
particular case, and should be judged from the perspective of
a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position,
considering all the circumstances." Id. at 71
(citations omitted) (quotation marks).
extent Defendant argues Plaintiff Odom's transfer was
merely a lateral one, the Court notes "[t]he law is
unsettled concerning when a lateral transfer constitutes an
adverse employment decision." Devine v.
Thalhimers, 977 F.2d 572 (4th Cir. 1992) (table). For
instance, the Seventh Circuit has held transfer involving
same pay and benefits but objective loss of prestige such as
removal from private office is adverse employment action,
Collins v. Illinois, 830 F.2d 692, 704 (7th Cir.
1987); but the Eleventh Circuit has stated the temporary
transfer from foreman to plant guard is not a demotion where
no loss of pay or benefits results, Hudson v. Southern
Ductile Casting Corp., 849 F.2d 1372, 1375 (11th Cir.
record before it, having taken all of the law as set forth
above into consideration, the Court is unable to hold as a
matter of law Plaintiff whether Odom's transfer amounts
to an adverse employment action. This is a question best left
for the finder of fact to answer. Hence, the Court will
overrule this objection.
Defendant argues "[t]he Magistrate Judge erred in
finding that the City failed to offer a legitimate
non-retaliatory reason for reassigning [Plaintiff] Odom from
the Crime Prevention Unit." Defendant's Objections
this Court "review[s] the employer's articulated
reasons for [the employment action] and the plaintiff's
refutation thereof, [it] must keep in mind that Title VII is
not a vehicle for substituting the judgment of a [C]ourt for
that of the employer." DeJarnette v. Corning
Inc., 133 F.3d 293, 298-99 (4th Cir. 1998) (citation
omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Put another way,
"this Court does not sit as a kind of super-personnel
department weighing the prudence of employment decisions made
by firms charged with employment discrimination."
Id. at 299 (citations omitted) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Instead, the Court's "sole concern
is whether the [the employment action] was
discriminatory." Id. (citation omitted)
(internal quotation marks omitted). For this reason,
"when an employer articulates a reason [for its
employment decision] not forbidden by law, it is not [the
Court's] province to decide whether the reason was wise,
fair, or even correct, ultimately, so long as it truly was
the reason for the [employment action]." Id.
(citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
J. Kelly testified he reassigned Plaintiff Odom "[t]o
make sure that the employee didn't feel threatened and .
. . she was okay." ECF No. 31 at 14:7-8. This is
Defendant's proffered legitimate, non-retaliatory reason
for transferring Plaintiff Odom from one unit to the other.
But, as discussed below, the Court is unable to hold as a
matter of law the reason given by Defendant "truly was
the reason for the plaintiff's ...