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Mack v. Detyens Shipyards Inc.

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

November 3, 2017

Vania Mack, Plaintiff,
Detyens Shipyards, Inc. and Hightrak, d/b/a Hitrak Staffing, Inc., Defendants.


          Bristow Marchantlr United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action has been filed by the Plaintiff asserting claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against the Defendants in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq. Plaintiff also asserts a state law claim for negligent hiring, training, and supervision.

         The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P., on August 29, 2017. Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to the Defendants' motion on September 26, 2017. The Defendants were thereafter granted any extension of time until September 29, 2017 file a reply memorandum, but no reply was ever filed. The Defendants' motion is now before the court for disposition.[1]

         Background and Evidence[2]

         Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that on or about March 2015, she “began working for Defendant Detyens through Defendant Hitrak, as a laborer”. Complaint ¶ 11.[3] Plaintiff alleges that on or about June 14, 2015, she was sexually harassed by another employee, Herman Johnson. Plaintiff alleges that she reported this harassment to various supervisors, and that she was thereafter terminated in retaliation for reporting this sexual harassment.

         In her First Cause of Action, which is titled “Sexual Harassment Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964”, Plaintiff asserts a sexual harassment claim against the “Defendant Company” for allowing continued sexual harassment to occur after the Defendant had been informed that the contact was unwanted, by allowing Johnson to maintain his presence near the Plaintiff while at work, and by refusing to remove the Plaintiff from the hostile work environment and sexual harassment. Plaintiff also alleges that the “Defendant Company” retaliated against her by terminating her employment for engaging in protected conduct; i.e., reporting sexual harassment.[4] In her Second Cause of Action, for “negligent hiring, training and supervision”, Plaintiff alleges that the “Defendant” was negligent, wanton, reckless and/or acted with deliberate indifference by failing to adequately monitor and supervise the hiring practices of its personnel to ensure that only qualified applicants were hired, by failing to adequately train personnel, and by failing to supervise and correct actions of its personnel when they knew or should have known of improper conduct. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages against the “Defendant”. See generally, Plaintiff's Complaint.

         The evidence submitted with respect to the harassment incident at issue is essentially undisputed. This evidence shows that on June 14, 2015, Plaintiff was working in the hold of the cargo section of a ship when at one point she was bending over to do something when another employee, Herman Johnson, grabbed her from behind. Plaintiff's Deposition, pp. 56-57. Plaintiff described the incident as follows:

When I was bending over, when he came down, when he, you know, touched me - -grabbed me from the back, I stood up and I said, what the f***? And I turned around and I started fighting him. I started hitting him. He was just standing there and just looking at me. And I was like - - I was like, okay, Vania calm down, because this guy could rape you, kill you and throw you in one of these tanks and no one will ever find you.[5] And after, when I fought him, when I started hitting him, he looked at me. And I stood there and I looked at him to see what he was going to do. He walked away. When he walked away, I went to a different part, different section of the area. And I was saying, you know, I hope he hurries and leaves so I can leave, because I didn't want - - I was thinking, should I run up the ladder? I didn't want to entice - - I didn't want to do anything that's going to get him to - - you know, get him angry or whatnot. I didn't know where his mind was at.

         Plaintiff's Deposition, p. 58.

         Plaintiff testified that prior to this incident, she was not familiar with Johnson, and that she had never seen Johnson on a boat with her crew. Plaintiff testified that “that's what scared me about the situation, that he obviously was watching me”. Id., p. 65. Plaintiff testified that after Johnson went up the ladder, she went up after him, and “just took off” and went to her supervisor. Id., pp. 58-59. Plaintiff testified that she immediately reported what had happened to her supervisor “Waddell”, and that Waddell then reported what had happened to Joe Gordine. Id., pp. 59-60. Plaintiff testified that Gordine then called her in (this was that same day), and that she told Gordine that Johnson had come up behind her while she was bending over and “grabbed me from my vagina to my rear end. His hand is big. When he touched my butt area, he touched my vagina”. Id., pp. 60-61. When asked if Gordine believed her, Plaintiff testified “yes”. Id., p. 61. Gordine told Plaintiff that he was going to report what had happened to “Andy”, who was Gordine's boss. Id., pp. 61-62. Plaintiff testified that she then went home. Id.

         Plaintiff testified that when she reported to work the following day, she was “called off the job” to go meet with Andy Anderson, Joe Mack, “Ray”, “Paul” and “Ms. Vicky”. Id., pp. 63-64, 66. Plaintiff testified that during her meeting with the supervisors, they asked Plaintiff what she wanted to have done, and that she told them she wanted Johnson arrested. Plaintiff further testified that she also wanted him not to work in the same ships as she worked in. When Plaintiff was asked

Did you tell them, you guys don't have to fire him, but just keep him away from me in a different ship? You made it clear that you wanted him to work on ships other than ones you were on?

         Plaintiff responded

I said - - yeah, I probably said that. Yeah, I did say I don't want him near me.

Id., p. 67.

         Plaintiff further testified that after she met and spoke with her supervisors, when she went back to the ship she saw Johnson “being escorted off the ship”. Id., p. 66. When Plaintiff was asked is she knew what had happened to Johnson, Plaintiff testified that it was her understanding that he was terminated “that very day”, and that she had never seen him again since then. Id., p. 68. Plaintiff also testified that she had never talked to Johnson before this incident other than to say “hi” - that she had never had a conversation with him, and that the only time she had ever seen him was at the shipyard when he was introduced to her and a coworker as Chris Johnson's brother. Id., p. 68.

         When Plaintiff was asked if she thought Joe Gordine had handled the situation properly, Plaintiff said “yes”. When asked the same question about Andy Anderson, Plaintiff said “yes”. Plaintiff testified she could not say how anyone else had handled the situation - - that she had told them what happened but did not know what they had done afterwards. However, Plaintiff confirmed that Johnson was terminated, that she “felt relieved” that Johnson had been terminated, and that she had then returned to work. Id., p. 70. Plaintiff also testified that she never had any further meetings with anybody about the Herman Johnson incident after the day he was terminated, but that she did try to pursue criminal charges through the police, who advised her that she should talk to a lawyer. Id., pp. 71-73.


         The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P.

         The moving party has the burden of proving that judgment on the pleadings is appropriate. Temkin v. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991). Once the moving party makes this showing, however, to avoid summary judgment the opposing party must respond to the motion with specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992).


         (Sexual Harassment/Hostile ...

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