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Wilson v. Enterprise Bank of South Carolina

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

February 28, 2018

Mary Wilson, Plaintiff,
Enterprise Bank of South Carolina, David Johns, and Bernard Dickerson, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Enterprise Bank's objections to United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin's report and recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF Nos. 33 & 31). Defendants Enterprise and David Johns[1] moved to dismiss Plaintiff Mary Wilson's claims for retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) (ECF No. 12). The Magistrate Judge recommends denying Defendants' motion with respect to Plaintiff's retaliation and IIED claims against Enterprise, but granting the motion with respect to her IIED claim against Johns. For the reasons stated herein, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's recommendation.


         Since the parties have no objections, the Court, finding no clear error, adopts the background set out in the R & R. The Court briefly summarizes that factual and procedural background as relevant.

         Plaintiff worked as a teller at the Ehrhardt, South Carolina branch of Enterprise Bank. She alleges that she was groped by Defendant Bernard Dickerson, a fellow bank employee, on multiple occasions during the summer of 2016. After Plaintiff reported the alleged incidents, Dickerson was terminated. Despite his termination, Dickerson was still allowed to enter the bank. While Defendants argue that Dickerson was a bank customer and that he was only allowed in areas open to all bank customers, Plaintiff alleges that he was allowed in employee-only areas. Plaintiff also alleges that after she reported the incidents, she learned that she was not the first person to report an accusation against Dickerson. When Plaintiff sought a restraining order against Dickerson, Johns, the Senior Vice President of the bank, and Cara Thomas, a bank supervisor, testified to Dickerson's good character. Plaintiff then filed this action against Enterprise for sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. She also sued Enterprise, Johns, and Dickerson for IIED, and she sued Dickerson for false imprisonment, assault, and battery.


         On August 14, 2017, Defendants filed their motion to dismiss. On January 9, the Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending that the Court deny Defendants' motion with respect to the retaliation claim and the IIED claim against Enterprise, but grant the motion with respect to the IIED claim against Johns. Enterprise filed objections on January 23, and Plaintiff replied on January 30. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for 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). Parties may make written objections to the R & R within fourteen days after being served with a copy of it. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a specific objection is made, and it may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. A party's failure to object is taken as the party's agreement with the Magistrate Judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which no specific objection is made-this Court “must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         Plaintiff was represented by counsel up until the day the R & R was issued but is now proceeding pro se. Accordingly, the Court reviews her reply under a less stringent standard than that applied to attorneys. See Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978).


         A motion to dismiss pursuant Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim “challenges the legal sufficiency” of a pleading. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). To be legally sufficient, a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ” to allow the court to reasonably infer that the “defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 570 (2007)). The pleading must demonstrate that the pleader's right to relief is more than a mere possibility, but it need not rise to the level of evincing a probability of success. Id. Accordingly, “[d]etermining whether a [pleading] states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         I. Retaliation Claim under Title VII

         Enterprise's first objection is that the Magistrate Judge incorrectly concluded that Plaintiff's retaliation claim sufficiently alleges that she suffered a materially adverse employment action. Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because she has “opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter” or “made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). This anti-retaliation provision does not protect an employee from “those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience.” Burlington N. & Santa Fe R.R. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006). However, it “seeks to prevent employer interference with ‘unfettered access' to Title VII's remedial mechanisms.” Id. (citing Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 346 (1997)). Thus, the Supreme Court held that the anti-retaliation provision protects employees from actions that a “reasonable employee would have found . . . materially adverse.” Id. The Court further clarified that an action is materially adverse when “it might well have ‘dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or ...

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