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Brockington v. Stenson

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

January 26, 2018

Courtney L. Brockington, Plaintiff,
v.
Mr. Kim Stenson, Director; Emergency Management Division, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Margaret B. Seymour, Senior United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff Courtney L. Brockington (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brought the underlying action against her former employer, Defendant South Carolina Emergency Management Division (“EMD”), and her former supervisor, Defendant Director, Kim Stevenson[1] (“Stenson”) (collectively “Defendants”), asserting wrongful termination based on race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) et seq. ECF No. 1. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pretrial handling. This matter is now before the court on two pending Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation filed on February 23, 2017, ECF No. 18, and November 15, 2017, respectively, as well as the appeal of the Magistrate Judge's Order granting EMD attorney's fees. ECF No. 100.

         I. REVELANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 17, 2015, Plaintiff, who is black, was hired to work as a Personnel Liaison with EMD. ECF No. 21 at 2. As a Personnel Liaison, Plaintiff was responsible for all employees' files and received training on various workplace policies and procedures. Id.

         On February 23, 2016, Plaintiff was indicted by a federal grand jury on four counts of fraud.[2] As a condition of her bond, Plaintiff was ordered to notify her employer of the federal charges. (Order Setting Conditions of Release, Criminal Docket ECF No. 13). After EMD received notification of the criminal charges on or about April 1, 2016, Plaintiff alleges she was called into a meeting to discuss the criminal charge with Defendant Stenson and two other employees. ECF No. 21 at 1. At the meeting, Plaintiff claimed an agreement was reached that gave Plaintiff two days off with pay and made some adjustments to her job description. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Stenson refused to carry out the agreement, however, and terminated her employment. Id.

         On December 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit against Defendants for wrongful termination and race discrimination.[3] ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges she was “never convicted of a crime and was treated as [if she] was convicted by the court or Judge.” Id. at 5. Plaintiff further claims that Defendants terminated her employment on the basis of race, because white male employees who had been arrested returned to work without being disciplined or fired, as opposed to black female employees. Id. at 3; ECF No. 21 at 3. Plaintiff also alleges no workplace policies existed that allowed termination due to criminal charges. ECF No. 21 at 4.

         The Magistrate Judge reviewed Plaintiff's complaint and issued a Report and Recommendation on February 23, 2017, recommending that Defendant Stenson be summarily dismissed without prejudice and without issuance and service of process. ECF No. 18. The Magistrate Judge recommended that Stenson be dismissed as a Defendant on the grounds that claims brought under Title VII do not provide for individual liability. ECF No. 18 at 3 (citing Lissau v. S. Food Serv., Inc., 159 F.3d 177, 180 (4th Cir. 1998) (holding that supervisors are not liable in their individual capacities for Title VII violations). Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on March 10, 2017, ECF No. 21, to which EMD filed a reply on March 20, 2017. ECF No. 23.

         On July 31, 2017, EMD filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 57. EMD contends that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed because: (1) Plaintiff has not alleged that she is a member of a protected class; (2) Plaintiff has not alleged that she was qualified for the job or that her work was satisfactory; and (3) Plaintiff has not alleged facts that would show she was treated differently from white employees who were not members of the protected class. ECF No. 57-1. Further, EMD argues that “none of [Plaintiff's] allegations are analogous to her claims, as none involved an employee being accused of a crime.” Id.

         On August 1, 2017, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised of the dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if she failed to respond properly. ECF No. 58. On September 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to EMD's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 66. Plaintiff argues she was treated differently from white employees as they committed the following acts: (1) left work early every day; (2) took two hour lunches; (3) drove the company car to the beach while intoxicated and were stopped by police without any subsequent reprimands by EMD; and (4) unlawfully used leave from the State of South Carolina. ECF No. 66 at 5. EMD filed a reply on September 8, 2017. ECF No. 69.

         Additionally, EMD filed a motion to compel, seeking supplemental responses to EMD's First Interrogatories and to First Request for Production.[4] ECF No. 60. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to EMD's motion to compel. ECF No. 65. Plaintiff argues that Plaintiff's First Interrogatories responses were delivered to EMD on July 24, 2017. ECF No. 65 at 1. Plaintiff objects to additional supplemental responses or the production of documents as such “communication may damage the Plaintiff's case.” ECF No. 65 at 1. Plaintiff further claims that EMD refused to communicate with Plaintiff with respect to the submitted responses and requested the court deny EMD any attorney's fees. ECF No. 65 at 2.

         On September 25, 2017, the Magistrate Judge granted EMD's motion to compel and ordered Plaintiff to fully respond to EMD's discovery requests by October 6, 2017. ECF No. 76. The Magistrate Judge ordered EMD to file an affidavit of fees and costs associated with its motion to compel. Id. On October 6, 2017, EMD filed an affidavit of attorney's fees, which itemized 7.25 hours spent working on the motion to compel for a total fee of $797.50.[5] ECF No. 85 at 2. Plaintiff filed a motion to deny EMD's affidavit on the grounds that (1) Plaintiff is pro se; (2) Plaintiff provided EMD with the requested discovery on July 24, 2017; (3) EMD attorney's fees are exaggerated according to unnamed legal advisors; and (4) Plaintiff is financially unable to pay any attorney's fees. ECF No. 87 at 1. EMD filed a reply on October 26, 2017, contending that Plaintiff has failed to comply with the requested discovery and that Plaintiff's assertions regarding unnamed legal advisors are without merit. ECF No. 93 at 3-4.

         On November 15, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued an Order awarding EMD attorney's fees in the amount of $467.50. ECF No. 99. The Magistrate Judge reduced EMD attorney's fees based on the finding that two time expenditures appear to have been incurred prior to the filing of the motion to compel. ECF No. 99. The Magistrate Judge considered Plaintiff's objections, but concluded that EMD's attorney's fees are reasonable based on the factors adopted by the Fourth Circuit in Barber v. Kimbrell's, Inc., 577 F.2d 216 (4th Cir. 1978), for calculations of attorney's fees.[6] ECF No. 99 at 2.

         On the same day, the Magistrate Judge filed a second Report and Recommendation, recommending that EMD's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim be granted and that Plaintiff's remaining motions be terminated as moot.[7] ECF No. 100. Pursuant to Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310 (4th Cir. 2005), Plaintiff was advised of the right to file objections to the Report and Recommendation and the possible consequences if she failed to timely file written objections to the Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 100 at 7. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and to the Order awarding attorney's fees on November 29, 2017. ECF No. 103, 104. EMD filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections on December 13, 2017. ECF No. 105. Plaintiff filed a reply to EMD's response to Plaintiff's objections on January 9, 2018. ECF No. 107.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Magistrate Judge's Findings in Report ...


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