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Collins v. Charleston Place, LLC

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

July 26, 2017

Kimberly Collins, Plaintiff,
v.
Charleston Place, LLC d/b/a Belmond Charleston Place, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge.

         This employment dispute is before the Court on United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant's Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF No. 30). In his R & R, the Magistrate Judge recommends the Court grant Defendant Charleston Place, LLC's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 25) as to Collins' two federal claims and dismiss her state-law claim without prejudice. Both Collins and Charleston Place object to the R & R. (ECF Nos. 32 & 33.) For the following reasons, the Court overrules both sides' objections and disposes of Collins' claims in the manner the Magistrate Judge recommends.

         BACKGROUND

         Collins is suing Charleston Place, which operates a hotel, over its April 2015 decision to fire her as a disciplinary measure. Collins, who is Caucasian, claims Charleston Place violated 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (“Title VII”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 because her race motivated its decision to fire her. She also claims Charleston Place violated South Carolina law by firing her because of her political opinions and because she expressed those opinions in the workplace.

         Charleston Place denies Collins' accusations. It contends Collins lost her job by being rude, disrespectful, and insubordinate to her superiors.

         Following discovery, Charleston Place moved for summary judgment on all three of Collins' claims. After the parties briefed the motion, the Magistrate Judge prepared his R & R. In the R & R, the Magistrate Judge recommended granting summary judgment on Collins' two federal claims because Collins has failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact on a key element of her claims. As for the state-law claim, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and dismiss the claim without prejudice so that Collins may sue in state court.

         Both sides objected to the R & R. Collins objected to the Magistrate Judge's analysis of her federal claims. Charleston Place objected to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to dismiss Collins' state-law claim. Each side responded to the other's objections. With Charleston Place's motion and the objections now fully briefed, this matter is ripe for consideration.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a timely, specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         The Court addresses the objections according to the type of claim involved.

         I. Collins' Federal Claims

         Collins' Title VII claim and her § 1981 claim both turn on the same allegation: that Charleston Place engaged in racial discrimination. Plaintiffs asserting such claims may defeat summary judgment motions either by presenting direct evidence of racial discrimination in the firing or by presenting indirect evidence of discrimination that satisfies the framework the Supreme Court laid out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). E.g., Shun-Lung Chao v. Int'l Bus. Mach. Corp., 424 F. App'x 259, 260 (4th Cir. 2011) (per curiam); Ferguson v. Waffle House, Inc., 18 F.Supp.3d 705, 718 (D.S.C. 2014); see also Lewis v. Cent. Piedmont Cmty. Coll., 689 F.2d 1207, 1209 n.3 (4th Cir. 1982) (stating the McDonnell Douglas framework applies to claims brought under Title VII and under § 1981).

         Collins has not offered any direct evidence of discrimination. She has instead focused on the McDonnell Douglas framework, which has three steps. Guessous v. Fairview Prop. Investments, LLC, 828 F.2d 208, 216 (4th Cir. 2016). First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 601 F.3d 289, 294 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981)). To establish a prima facie case of racially discriminatory employee discipline, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for her job and her job performance was satisfactory; (3) she was fired; and “(4) other employees who are not members of the protected class were retained under apparently similar circumstances.” Bryant v. Bell Atl. Md., Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 133 (4th Cir. 2002). Second, after the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the defendant must produce evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for discharging the employee. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. Finally, if the defendant meets that burden, the plaintiff must then come forward with evidence that the defendant's proffered reasons “were not its true ...


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