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LeBlanc v. Sunset Management, Inc.

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

July 12, 2017

Beverly LeBlanc, Plaintiff,
v.
Sunset Management, Inc., and Wayne Greene, Defendant. Laressa B. Brantley, Plaintiff,
v.
Sunset Management, Inc., and Wayne Greene, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Shiva V. Hodges United States Magistrate Judge

         Beverly LeBlanc (“LeBlanc”) and Laressa B. Brantley (“Brantley”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) sue their former employer, Sunset Management, Inc. (“Sunset”), and their former supervisor, Wayne Greene (“Greene”) (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiffs allege claims of (1) wrongful discharge; (2) sexual harassment and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”), (3) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). [ECF No. 1-1]. Pursuant to the parties' consent to proceed before the undersigned [ECF No. 9] and their request to consolidate [ECF No. 10], the cases were referred to the undersigned for a final order [ECF No. 11] and consolidated for pretrial proceedings [ECF No. 12].

         I. Factual Background

         LeBlanc was hired by Sunset in October 2013 as an assistant branch manager in Sunset's Sumter, South Carolina branch. LeBlanc Complaint ¶ 7. When LeBlanc joined the branch, she worked with Greene, the branch manager; Greene's wife, Brenda (“Brenda”), who was an assistant branch manager; and Brenda's sister, Kathy Thompson, another assistant branch manager. LeBlanc Dep. at 41:15-19:1.[1] When Thompson left her position, Sunset hired Brantley in February 2014. Brantley Compl. ¶ 7.

         Brantley and LeBlanc both suffered sexual harassment by Greene during their employment at Sunset. LeBlanc Aff. ¶ 5; Brantley Aff. ¶ 5.[2] Both Plaintiffs stated in their affidavits that Greene placed his hands on their thighs and ran his hand up their legs. Id. at ¶ 6. Greene often pulled Brantley and LeBlanc to him and kissed them on the neck, cheek, and face. Id. at ¶ 7. Greene also placed his hand down Brantley's shirt. Id. Greene forced Brantley and LeBlanc to model their work clothes and would make lewd comments about their appearance. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 9. On one occasion, Greene commented about the shapeliness of LeBlanc's backside while she was wearing a green pantsuit. LeBlanc Aff. ¶ 10. Greene also stated that Brantley's legs went all the way to heaven. Brantley Aff. ¶ 10.

         Greene was supervised by James Maas (“Maas”), Sunset's South Carolina regional supervisor. Plaintiffs had regular conflict with Greene and Brenda, about which they regularly complained to Maas. Specifically, Plaintiffs complained about Greene's and Brenda's work habits, management styles, and harsh communication styles. Maas. Aff. ¶ 6-7;[3] Brantley Dep. at 221:12-23.[4] Maas also stated that he reprimanded Greene once when it was reported to him that Greene had told Brantley that her Harley Davidson riding boots looked “butch.” Maas Aff. ¶ 15. Maas's reprimand included instructions that Greene not make such comments anymore. Id. Maas states that he was not made aware of any additional comments following the reprimand of Greene. Plaintiffs claim they complained to Maas of Greene's sexual harassment in July 2014. LeBlanc Aff. ¶ 12; Brantley Aff. ¶ 13. Maas states Plaintiffs never complained to him about any sexual harassment. Maas Aff. ¶ 14.

         In July 2014, Greene required surgery, and he left Brenda in charge of the branch. LeBlanc Dep. 63:25-64:2. On Thursday, July 17, 2014, Brenda and Brantley had a conflict over Brantley's work, and Brenda instructed Brantley to leave. LeBlanc Dep. 186:4-16. When LeBlanc questioned Brenda's decision to instruct Brantley to leave, Brenda told LeBlanc to call Maas. LeBlanc Dep. 63:16-66:20. LeBlanc called Maas, who spoke with Brenda and Brenda resigned on the phone with Maas. Brenda did not report to work the following day, Friday, July 18, when Maas met with Plaintiffs at the branch. LeBlanc Dep. 68:7-19. Maas changed the locks and removed Brenda's name from the bank account and replaced it with Brantley's. Id. According to LeBlanc, Maas told Plaintiffs to keep up the good work and informed them that he was leaving for vacation. Id. Maas did not return from vacation until July 28, 2014. Maas Aff. ¶ 11.

         Unbeknownst to Maas, in the intervening period before he returned from vacation, Lee Knight, Vice President of Sunset, learned of the altercation and Brenda's resignation, met with Plaintiffs, and terminated their employment. LeBlanc Dep. 38:10-18. According to Knight, Sunset accepted Brenda's resignation and decided to staff the Sumter branch with new employees who Sunset hoped could work together as a team. Knight Aff. ¶¶ 10-12. Knight and Maas stated they did not learn of Plaintiff's complaints of sexual harassment until they received notice of their filed charges of discrimination from the EEOC, long after Plaintiffs were no longer employed by Sunset. Knight Aff. ¶ 14;[5] Maas Aff. ¶ 16. Knight and Maas state that Maas had no involvement in Knight's decision to terminate Plaintiffs. Knight Aff. ¶ 13; Maas Aff. ¶13. Knight states it was exclusively his own decision to terminate Plaintiffs because the performance of the Sumter branch was “going in the wrong direction” and Plaintiffs had acted “unprofessionally” and not as “team players.” Knight Aff. ¶ 10. Plaintiffs also note that termination decision was Knight's and not Maas's. Brantley Dep. 219:4-220:7.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard on Summary Judgment

         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). The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that summary judgment is appropriate; if the movant carries its burden, then the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If a movant asserts that a fact cannot be disputed, it must support that assertion either by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials;” or “showing . . . that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248.

         B. Analysis

         1. ...


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