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Ray v. International Paper Co.

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

September 28, 2017

Tamika Ray, Plaintiff,
International Paper Company, Defendant.


          Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Tamika Ray filed this action asserting sexual harassment and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”). (Compl., ECF No. 1). Defendant International Paper Company filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 32). Plaintiff Tamika Ray filed a response opposing the motion (ECF No. 35), and Defendant filed a reply (ECF No. 40). This matter is before the court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending that the court grant the Defendant's summary judgment motion. (ECF No. 44). Plaintiff timely filed objections (ECF No. 45), and Defendant filed a reply (ECF No. 47).

         I. Background/Procedural History [1]

         Defendant operates a facility in Laurens, South Carolina, which manufactures and distributes packaging boxes.[2] In December 2002, Plaintiff began working as a second shift bundler in the converting department at the Laurens facility. Her supervisor was Johnnie McDowell (“McDowell”). In 2007, Plaintiff was promoted to second shift operator and continued to report to McDowell. In 2013, Plaintiff was transferred to a second shift bander operator position in the shipping department where she was directly supervised by Benjamin Owens (“Owens”) for part of her shift. However, there was no second-shift supervisor in the shipping department, and after Owens left for the day at 5:00pm, McDowell was the only supervisor.

         Plaintiff alleges that her relationship with McDowell started to become uncomfortable in 2003. She alleges that McDowell repeatedly asked her to have sex with him despite her telling him to stop. She alleges that he offered her money and to buy her things in exchange for sex; asked her to come to his house; made obscene gestures; offered to father a baby with her; and asked her to show him her “cha cha” and her “monkey.” She alleges that McDowell told her that he wished his office had a curtain so he could bend her over the desk, and she alleges that McDowell grabbed her thigh while she was in his office. Plaintiff testified that whenever McDowell propositioned her, “there were never any witnesses around” and nobody ever overheard McDowell's repeatedly asking Plaintiff to have sex with him.

         Plaintiff alleges that she complained numerous times to Owens about the harassment. She alleges that she first complained sometime in 2013 to Owens, Derrick Smith, another supervisor, and Tracy Israel, a safety manager, telling them that McDowell would not leave her alone and was harassing her because she refused to have sex with him. Plaintiff alleges no action was taken and neither Owens, Smith, or Israel reported the harassment. However, Plaintiff also told Owens and Smith she did not want them to say anything because she was afraid it would make things worse. Plaintiff alleges that in the Spring of 2014, after she had complained to Owens, Smith, and Israel, McDowell stopped allowing her to come in early to earn overtime pay which she alleges was a significant portion of her compensation.

         On Friday, September 19, 2014, Plaintiff asked a coworker in a text message if he would cover the remaining portion of her shift so that she could spend the night in the hospital with her mother-in-law. The co-worker agreed and Plaintiff left work early. Plaintiff, however, failed to notify a supervisor which is a violation of company policy. Plaintiff spent that night in the hospital with her mother-in-law. While Plaintiff acknowledges she sent the text message to her co-worker, she alleges that she actually needed to leave work early because she had experienced an intense and unbearable week of harassment from McDowell. Plaintiff alleges that the following Monday, September 22, 2014, she reported the harassment to Tammy Hyatt, the Human Resources representative, and Michael Touberen, the complex general manager. Plaintiff was interviewed by Human Resource representatives Ken Reeves and Hyatt. Defendant claims that it investigated Plaintiff's allegations, but did not find any corroboration of Plaintiff's allegations, and McDowell denied the allegations. Despite this, Defendant instructed McDowell not to directly interact with Plaintiff.

         After her complaint in 2014, Plaintiff has not had much interaction with McDowell. However, on November 17, 2014, Plaintiff complained to management about McDowell staring or glaring at her. Additionally, Plaintiff complained about McDowell kicking out units when the line was not backed up and then jamming Plaintiff's line by pushing units together. In June 2015, Plaintiff complained to Owens again about McDowell continuing to stare at her. Defendant investigated each of these complaints. Plaintiff also alleges that her overtime hours were eliminated after she reported the harassment in 2013. Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and after receiving a Notice of Right to Sue, she filed this action.

         II. Applicable Law

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in his favor. 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. A litigant “cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, disposition by summary judgment is appropriate.” Monahan v. County of Chesterfield, 95 F.3d 1263, 1265 (4th Cir. 1996).

         III. Discussion

         A. Sexual Harassment and Hostile Environment Claims

         To establish a Title VII sexual harassment claim, Plaintiff must show that the offending conduct was (1) unwelcome; (2) based on her sex; (3) sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive work environment; and (4) imputable to her employer. Ocheltree v. Scollon Productions, Inc., 335 F.3d 325, 331 (4th Cir. 2003). The analysis of whether the harassing conduct is imputable to the employer is controlled by Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), and Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998).

         Generally, sexual harassment comes in two forms: harassment that does not result in a tangible employment action which has traditionally been referred to as “hostile work environment” harassment, and harassment that does result in a tangible employment action which has traditionally been referred to as “quid pro quo” harassment. See generally Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 760-63. In Ellerth and Faragher, however, the Supreme Court eschewed the labels “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment” in the context of assessing employer liability in favor of an analysis of whether (1) the employee suffered harassment that culminated in a tangible employment action, or (2) if no tangible employment action existed, the harassment was sufficient to constructively alter an employee's working conditions. Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 761-63; Faragher, 524 U.S. at 790, 807. “[W]hen the harasser is a supervisor, the employer is presumptively liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, unless the Faragher-Ellerth defense applies.” Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 n.7 (4th Cir. 2012).

         In Faragher and Ellerth, the Supreme Court recognized that in certain limited circumstances, an employer could invoke an affirmative defense to sexual harassment claims. If the alleged harasser is a supervisor,

[and] the supervisor's harassment culminates in a tangible employment action, the employer is strictly liable. But if no tangible employment action is taken, the employer may escape liability by establishing, as an affirmative defense, that (1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassing behavior and (2) that the plaintiff unreasonably failed to ...

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