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Smith v. Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community

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

October 31, 2017




         This matter is before the court on defendant Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community's (“Gadsden”) motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 29. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies Gadsden's motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Carol Anne Smith (“Smith”), who is African American, began working for Gadsden as a “CNA”[2] on May 16, 2013. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 12. A short time thereafter, Smith was promoted to “concierge.” Id. ¶ 12. Gadsden's then-Director, Ryan Coker, promised Smith an hourly raise and a monthly bonus based on commission, which was scheduled to go into effect on September 15, 2014. Id. ¶¶ 12, 13. Shortly thereafter, Ryan Coker resigned and was replaced by Marissa Ferguson (“Ferguson”), a Caucasian woman. Id. ¶ 13. Smith was never given the promised hourly raise and monthly commission. Id. ¶ 16, 17. When Smith discussed this issue with Ferguson, as well as with Gadsden's Director of Payroll and Director of Human Resources, she was simply told that Ferguson could not determine the amount of Smith's bonus. Id. ¶ 15.

         Aside from Gadsden's failure to pay the agreed-upon raise and commission, Smith claims she was also subjected to disparate treatment during her employment, receiving reprimands for the same actions that other, Caucasian employees engaged in without any repercussions. Id. ¶¶ 18, 19. Smith was ultimately terminated on January 5, 2016. Id. ¶ 26. Gadsden provided other reasons for the termination, but Smith alleges that her termination was Gadsden's retaliation for her reporting the payment discrepancies and racial discrimination, as well as for a worker's compensation claim she had commenced following a work-related injury. Id. ¶ 25, 27.

         Smith filed the instant action on September 14, 2016, and filed an amended complaint on March 23, 2017. The amended complaint brings the following claims: (1) racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (“EEOA”); (2) retaliation for Smith complaining to Gadsden about racial discrimination, in violation of Title VII and the EEOA; (3) hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII; (4) violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, SC Code of Laws § 41-10-40, for refusing to pay Smith for wages due; (5) violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), for failing to pay the wages owed to Smith; (6) conversion; and (7) retaliatory discharge in violation of S.C. Code of Laws § 41-1-80, as amended. Id. ¶ 32-81.

         On April 6, 2017, Gadsden moved to dismiss Smith's FLSA and conversion claims. ECF No. 21. On April 20, 2017, Smith filed a response, conceding that she had failed to state a claim under the FLSA, but arguing that her conversion claim should go forward. ECF No. 23. On May 24, 2017, the court dismissed the conversion claim without prejudice. ECF No. 28. On July 6, 2017, Gadsden moved for summary judgment on Smith's remaining claims. ECF No. 29. Smith responded on July 20, 2017, ECF No. 32, and Gadsden replied on July 27, 2017, ECF No. 33. This motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show 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(c). Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the district court enter judgment against a party who, ‘after adequate time for discovery . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'” Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 190 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. When the party moving for summary judgment does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may discharge its burden by demonstrating to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The non-movant must then “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322.

         Any reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, Webster v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 685 F.3d 411, 421 (4th Cir. 2012). However, to defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; Stone, 105 F.3d at 191. Rather, “a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment . . . must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (2002) (amended 2010)). If the adverse party fails to provide evidence establishing that the fact-finder could reasonably decide in his favor, then summary judgment shall be entered “regardless of ‘[a]ny proof or evidentiary requirements imposed by the substantive law.'” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).


         Gadsden moves for summary judgment, claiming that the doctrine of judicial estoppel bars Smith from bringing claims in this court that she concealed before the United States Bankruptcy Court (“Bankruptcy Court”). Def.'s Mot. 1. Gadsden contends that Smith's failure to disclose to her actual legal claims against Gadsden to the Bankruptcy Court essentially represented to the Bankruptcy Court that those claims did not exist. Id. at 9. According to Gadsden, therefore, Smith's assertion before this court that she has valid claims against Bishop Gadsden “is a factual assertion inconsistent with her previous position in the Bankruptcy Court that she had no contingent or unliquidated claims.” Id. at 10 (internal quotations omitted). In response, Smith asserts that she did in fact disclose her potential wrongful termination claim to the Bankruptcy Court. Pl.'s Resp. 7.

         An undisputed timeline of key events is helpful in understanding Gadsden's argument. On January 6, 2016, Smith was terminated by Gadsden. On April 11, 2016, Smith completed an Intake Questionnaire with the EEOC stating her intent to file a charge against Gadsden. On April 18, 2016, Smith filed a Chapter 13 Voluntary Petition in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina. Def.'s Mot. 4, Pl.'s Resp. 5-6. On June 9, 2017, Smith filed a charge against ...

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