United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 52.) Pursuant to the provisions
of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1) and Local
Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), D.S.C., all pretrial matters in
employment discrimination cases are referred to a United
States Magistrate Judge for consideration. For the reasons
set forth herein, the undersigned recommends that
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 52) be
granted as to all of Plaintiff's claims.
is a scientific, engineering, and technology applications
company that helps government and commercial clients solve
problems in the areas of national security, energy and the
environment, critical infrastructure, and health. (Dkt. No.
51 at 2.) In October 2010, Defendant hired Plaintiff as
editing specialist. (Id.; Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 23;
Dkt. No. 59 at 6.) At the time of hire, Plaintiff (female)
was over the age of forty (40) and had several physically
apparent medical issues from a car accident that occurred
prior to her employment with Defendant. (Dkt. No. 51-3 at
24:13-16; Dkt. No. 44 ¶¶ 19, 21.)
December 2013, Plaintiff was assigned to Defendant's Blue
Force Tracer Group (“BFTG”) in Charleston, South
Carolina as the team's third technical writer. (Dkt. No.
44 ¶¶ 25- 27.) As a technical writer, Plaintiff was
tasked with writing, editing, and proofing user documents and
training materials utilized by floor technicians in a
production environment. (Dkt. No. 51-2.) Plaintiff worked
closely with engineers and technicians to create, maintain,
and form various types of installation procedures, including
instructions and graphics for radio installation manuals.
(Dkt. No. 51-3 at 67:9-12.) When Plaintiff joined BFTG in
2013, Gary Wingate (“Mr. Wingate”) was one of the
team's technical writers, and Jeff Stewart (“Mr.
Stewart”) was the team's technical writing manager.
(Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 27.) In September 2014, Mr. Stewart was
promoted to the position of task manager, at which point Mr.
Wingate became the lead technical writer on BFTG.
(Id. ¶ 29; Dkt. No. 51-9 ¶ 8.) Plaintiff
claims that she had more experience and was a stronger
technical writer than Mr. Wingate at the time of his
promotion. (Dkt. 44 ¶ 29.)
point in 2015, Defendant split into two separate entities:
Science Applications International Corporation
(“SAIC”) and Leidos. (Id. ¶ 31.)
Plaintiff remained with SAIC (hereinafter referred to as
“Defendant”). (Dkt. No. 61 at 3-4.) Following the
split, Defendant reclassified its remaining employees to
comport with its ongoing government contracts. (Id.;
Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 31.) As a general practice, SAIC employees
are classified based on the needs of each particular project;
as a result, job classifications change depending on the
specific requirements of the underlying government contract.
(Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 31; Dkt. No. 61 at 3-4.) Notwithstanding
the reclassification of their contractual roles,
employees' official job titles with Defendant otherwise
remain the same. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 31; Dkt. No. 61 at 3-4.)
Accordingly, although Defendant reclassified Mr. Wingate as
“Engineering Technician V” and Plaintiff as
“Administrative Assistant V” in 2015, they
remained “technical writers” for purposes of
their employment with Defendant. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 31; Dkt.
No. 61 at 3-4.) According to Plaintiff, however, her
particular reclassification as “Administrative
Assistant” made her ineligible for raises. (Dkt. No. 44
¶ 31; Dkt. No. 59 at 6.)
the course of the next year, Plaintiff claims that she
experienced certain negative treatment by Mr. Stewart and
Defendant's management team. According to Plaintiff,
Defendant scrutinized her work more than other employees, and
“watched and monitored [her] at all times regarding her
coming and goings, work assignments, duties and
responsibilities.” (Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 35.)
Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Mr. Stewart occasionally
“stalked” her in the parking lot at work to
ensure that Plaintiff was leaving at the time she represented
on her timesheet. (Id. ¶ 37; Dkt. No. 59 at 7.)
Further, Plaintiff claims that Defendant policed her
productivity, and accused her of spending too much time on
the internet despite other male employees doing the same.
(Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 54; Dkt. No. 59 at 7.) Plaintiff alleges
that Defendant also scrutinized her requests for vacation and
purposely made it more difficult for Plaintiff to obtain
approval. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 39; Dkt. No. 59 at 9.)
Plaintiff also contends that Mr. Stewart gave her low
performance evaluations. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 34.)
around December 19, 2016, Plaintiff claims that she was
instructed to format and edit an operator's manual. (Dkt.
No. 44 ¶ 38; Dkt. No. 59 at 7-8.) According to
Plaintiff, Defendant's management team provided her with
the wrong version of the manual, which made it difficult for
Plaintiff to complete the project by the client's due
date. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 38; Dkt. No. 59 at 7-8.) Plaintiff
claims that she was accused of managing her time poorly, and
that none of the managers took responsibility for giving
Plaintiff the wrong template and jeopardizing timely
completion of the project. (Dkt. No. 59 at 8.)
January 2017, Plaintiff claims that Mr. Stewart changed her
workflow without telling her, which complicated Plaintiffs
ability to access and review documents. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶
40; Dkt. No. 59 at 9-10.) Specifically, as a result of Mr.
Stewart's change to the workflow, Plaintiff had to go
through the document control manager any time she wanted to
move or review a document during the revision process-an
inconvenient extra step for Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 59 at 9;
Dkt. No. 51-3 at 123:9-124:15.) Plaintiff did not miss any
deadlines because of this change. (Dkt. No. 51-3 at
February 2017, Plaintiff claims that Mr. Stewart and lead
technician Brandon Wakefield (“Mr. Wakefield”)
approached her and asked if she had printed certain materials
in preparation for an upcoming Form Fit. (Dkt. No. 44
¶¶ 41-42.) During a Form Fit, SAIC engineers,
technicians, and technical writers meet with representatives
from one of Defendant's clients and use the final draft
of a manual to perform a mock installation and determine
whether any changes need to be made to the manual's
instructions. (Dkt. No. 51-3 at 124:19-125:2; Dkt. No.
51 at 4.) According to Plaintiff, she informed Mr. Stewart
that she had not yet printed the materials, at which point he
adopted an “aggressive and condescending tone.”
(Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 42; Dkt. No. 59 at 10.)
Plaintiff then printed the appropriate documents and took
them to Mr. Wakefield. (Dkt. No. 59 at 10.) After delivering
the documents, Plaintiff claims that Mr. Wakefield and Mr.
Stewart falsely accused her of throwing the documents onto
Mr. Wakefield's desk, and that Plaintiff was asked to
apologize, although she denied throwing the documents.
(Id. at 11; Dkt. No. 53-1 at 126:1-12; Dkt. No. 44
March 7, 2017, Plaintiff attended the first day of the Form
Fit, which included Mr. Stewart, SAIC technicians, engineers
and writers, and a client representative. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶
46; Dkt. No. 51-3 at 130:2-9.) Plaintiff claims that Mr.
Stewart degraded Plaintiff throughout the day and displayed
an “extremely hostile” attitude towards her.
(Dkt. No. 51-3 at 138:5-7.) Plaintiff claims that Mr. Stewart
“was very abrupt and condescending in the things that
he said [and] was clearly just irritated with
[Plaintiff].” (Id. at 131:3-5; Dkt. No. 44
¶ 46.) Plaintiff also claims that Mr. Stewart needlessly
marked-up Plaintiff's documentation, and made sarcastic,
condescending remarks as he did so. (Dkt. No. 59 at 12; Dkt.
No. 44 ¶ 46.)
March 8, 2017, Plaintiff returned for the second day of the
Form Fit. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Stewart continued to
speak to her in an “unprofessional” and
“inappropriate” manner and attempted to humiliate
her by fabricating flaws in Plaintiff's materials. (Dkt.
No. 44 ¶ 47; Dkt. No. 59 at 12; Dkt. No. 51-3 at
143:10-22.) Plaintiff claims that she felt threatened during
the Form Fit because Mr. Stewart and one of the technicians
were glaring at her and had “angry body posture.”
(Dkt. No. 51-3 at 143:23-144:1, 145:5-9.) At some point
during the Form Fit, Plaintiff and Mr. Stewart had a heated
disagreement regarding potential revisions to Plaintiff's
manual; specifically, Mr. Stewart felt there was ambiguity in
the instructions that needed clarification, while Plaintiff
felt the steps were sufficient as written. (Id. at
143:7-22.) Plaintiff walked away from the interaction and
went to heat up her lunch. (Id. at 147:13-14.) When
she returned, Mr. Stewart told Plaintiff to pack her things
and leave the Form Fit. (Id. at 147:13-17; Dkt. No.
59 at 13.) Plaintiff asked Mr. Stewart if they could discuss
the situation, but he refused. (Dkt. No. 51-3 at 147:18-20;
151:2-6; Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 47.) Plaintiff then finished
eating her lunch and left the Form Fit. (Dkt. No. 51-3 at
returning to her office on March 8, 2017, Plaintiff made a
verbal complaint to Marcia Saari (“Ms. Saari”),
Defendant's Human Resources Business Partner, about her
interactions with Mr. Stewart during the Form Fit. (Dkt. No.
51-3 at 152:16-153:2; Dkt. No. 59 at 13.) According to Ms.
Saari, Plaintiff did not raise any express concerns about
discrimination of any sort during the conversation on March
8, 2017. (Dkt. No. 51-1 ¶ 4.) Rather, Ms. Saari claims
that Plaintiff's complaint was about Mr. Stewart's
general “management style” and
“communication tone.” (Dkt. No. 51-8 at 15:2-10.)
that same day, Mr. Stewart prepared a draft letter of
reprimand regarding Plaintiff's behavior during the Form
Fit. (Dkt. No. 51-6 at 42:23-25; Dkt. No. 51-7.) Among other
things, the letter stated that Plaintiff had refused to
address a confusing portion of the manual when asked by Mr.
Stewart, and that she would not make the recommended
revisions to remove the ambiguity. (Dkt. No. 51-7.) The
letter also noted that Plaintiff's “outburst”
occurred in front of the client's
representative. (Id.) Several of the technicians
present during the Form Fit provided statements about
Plaintiff's conduct, which Mr. Stewart included in the
letter of reprimand. (Id.) At the time he drafted
the letter, Mr. Stewart claims he was not aware that
Plaintiff had made a complaint to Ms. Saari earlier that day,
and Ms. Saari confirms that she did not inform Mr. Stewart of
Plaintiff's complaint. (Dkt. No. 51-1 ¶ 5; Dkt. No.
51-9 ¶ 3.)
result of Plaintiff's complaint, Ms. Saari deferred any
possible discipline against Plaintiff for the Form Fit until
she could adequately investigate Plaintiff's concerns.
(Dkt. No. 51-1 ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 51-3 at 192:11-20.) On
March 16, 2017, per Ms. Saari's request, Plaintiff
submitted a written report describing her complaints against
Mr. Stewart and Defendant's management team. (Dkt. No.
51-3 at 155:9-21; Dkt. No. 51-10.) In her report, Plaintiff
alleged that Defendant did not apply its rules equally to all
employees. (Dkt. No. 51-10 at 10-11.) Specifically, Plaintiff
stated that Defendant's management team had policed her
work performance, attendance, and internet usage more closely
than other employees. (Dkt. No. 51- 10.) Plaintiff also
alleged that Defendant's management team had created a
hostile work environment through what Plaintiff considered an
“authoritarian management style.” (Id.
at 8-9.) The report did not, however, expressly allege
discrimination or hostile work environment based on a
protected class. Plaintiffs report also included her version
of what happened during the Form Fit. (Dkt. No. 51-10; Dkt.
No. 51-8 at 15:24-16:1.)
1, 2017, Plaintiff sent an email to Ms. Saari stating that
she wanted to add claims of sex and age discrimination to her
complaint against Mr. Stewart and Defendant's management
team. (Dkt. No. 51-11.) Ms. Saari then transferred the
investigation to Beth Strother (“Ms. Strother”)
in Defendant's Corporate Employee Relations Department,
which specializes in work environment issues. (Id.)
On May 18, 2017, while Ms. Strother's investigation was
still pending, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination
against Defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”), alleging discrimination and
harassment based on age and sex (“First Charge”).
(Dkt. No. 51-14.)
about June 27, 2017, Ms. Strother concluded her investigation
into Plaintiffs complaints. (Dkt. No. 51-12 ¶ 11.) After
interviewing the relevant witnesses and reviewing various
statements, Ms. Strother concluded that there was no evidence
of sex or age discrimination and, with respect to the Form
Fit incident, Mr. Stewart had acted appropriately.
(Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Ms. Strother found that Mr.
Stewart had requested the necessary revisions from Plaintiff
in a “calm, professional manner” during the
exercise, and that Plaintiff had responded defiantly.
(Id. ¶ 9.) Additionally, with respect to the
incident with Mr. Wakefield in February 2017, Ms. Strother
concluded, based on witnesses' observations, that
Plaintiff had in fact thrown the documents onto Mr.
Wakefield's desk. (Id. ¶ 8.)
her complaints to Human Resources and her First Charge,
Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Stewart began badmouthing
Plaintiff around the workplace, such that Plaintiff was
“shunned” by her male colleagues and received
dirty looks. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶¶ 53, 59; Dkt. No. 59 at
13.) Plaintiff also claims that Defendant continued to police
her conduct at work, and even moved Plaintiff's desk to
an area where management could easily spy on her. (Dkt. No.
44 ¶¶ 53, 57, 59; Dkt. No. 59 at 15.) According to
Plaintiff, Defendant began to exclude her from team
discussions, including the decision to hire several new
writers, one of whom was Kim Gasparovic (“Ms.
Gasparovic”). (Dkt. No. 59 at 16, 17, 19, 20, 23.)
Plaintiff claims that although she had more experience and
seniority than Ms. Gasparovic, Mr. Stewart directed that all
of Plaintiff's documents be peer-reviewed by Ms.
Gasparovic. (Id. at 19-20.) Plaintiff further claims
that despite Ms. Gasparovic's lack of experience,
Defendant treated her like a senior writer and gave her more
opportunities than Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 59 at 38.)
28, 2017, Plaintiff met with Ms. Saari and several members of
Defendant's management team about her behavior during the
Form Fit. Rather than issue Mr. Stewart's letter of
reprimand, Defendant ultimately gave Plaintiff a Memorandum
of Expectations (“MOE”), which is a written
warning that goes in the employee's personnel file. (Dkt.
No. 51-8 at 16:19- 17:9; Dkt. No. 51-15.) The MOE stated that
Plaintiff's refusal to participate productively in the
document development exercise led to her removal from the
Form Fit. (Dkt. No. 51-15.) Plaintiff refused to sign the
MOE; instead, she submitted a written response to Human
Resources explaining why she disagreed with the MOE, and
alleging that placement of the MOE in her personnel file was
“retaliatory in nature” and reflected a hostile
work environment. (Dkt. No. 51-15; Dkt. No. 51-8 at 17:3-6.)
The MOE did not affect Plaintiff's compensation or job in
any way. (Dkt. No. 51-1 ¶ 10.)
11, 2017, the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue in
response to Plaintiff's First Charge. (Dkt. No. 44 ¶
18.) On August 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed another charge of
discrimination against Defendant with the EEOC, this time
adding claims of retaliation, hostile work environment, and
disability discrimination (“Second Charge”).
(Dkt. No. 51-16.) On October 3, 2017, after receiving a
notice of right to sue in response to her Second Charge,
Plaintiff filed the instant case against Defendant. (Dkt. No.
1.) Plaintiff amended her Complaint on December 7, 2017,
(Dkt. No. 14), and again on September 18, 2018, (Dkt. No.
44). During this time, in April 2018, Plaintiff was offered
and accepted a lateral transfer to another technical writer
position and received a raise. (Dkt. No. 51-3 at 165:12-24.)
Second Amended Complaint alleges five causes of action: (1)
sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); (2) age
discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (“ADEA”); (3) disability
discrimination in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (4) hostile work
environment based on sex and age in violation of Title VII
and the ADEA; and (5) retaliation in violation of Title VII
and the ADEA. (Dkt. No. 44.) On November 20, 2018, Defendant
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of
Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff filed a
Response in Opposition on December 17, 2018, (Dkt. No. 59),
and Defendant filed its reply on December 27, 2018, (Dkt. No.
to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment “shall” be granted “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). “Facts are
‘material' when they might affect the outcome of
the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the
evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict
for the nonmoving party.” The News & Observer
Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d
570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In ruling on a
motion for summary judgment, “‘the nonmoving
party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in that party's
favor.'” Id. (quoting Hunt v.
Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999)); see also
Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121,
123-24 (4th Cir. 1990). However, “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.”
Dash v. Mayweather, 731 F.3d 303, 311 (4th Cir.
Plaintiff's Discrimination Claims
Second Amended Complaint alleges three counts of
discrimination: sex discrimination in violation of Title VII;
age discrimination in violation of the ADEA; and disability
discrimination in violation of the ADA. (Dkt. No. 44.)
Plaintiff may establish discrimination under each of these
statutes through direct evidence or indirectly through the
burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas
Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See, e.g.,
Jeffers v. Lafarge N. Am., Inc., 622 F.Supp.2d 303,
315 (D.S.C. 2008) (ADEA); Hemphill v. United Parcel
Serv., Inc., 975 F.Supp.2d 548, 558 (D.S.C. 2013) (Title
VII); and Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the
Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 572 (4th Cir. 2015) (ADA); see
also Marzett v. Charleston Cty. Sch. Dist., No.
2:14-CV-3932-RMG-MGB, 2017 WL 1274254, at *8 (D.S.C. Jan. 27,
2017), adopted, No. 2:14-CV-03932-RMG, 2017 WL
589110 (D.S.C. Feb. 14, 2017), aff'd, 697
Fed.Appx. 186 (4th Cir. 2017).
Plaintiff has not presented any direct evidence of age, sex,
or disability discrimination. Thus, the undersigned must
analyze Plaintiff's discrimination claims pursuant to the
McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting
framework. Under this paradigm, Plaintiff bears the
initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of
discrimination. Ferguson v. Waffle House, Inc., 18
F.Supp.3d 705, 719 (D.S.C. 2014). If Plaintiff can set forth
each of the elements of a prima facie case of
discrimination, the burden then shifts to Defendant “to
show a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its
actions.” Id. If Defendant provides a
legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, the burden then shifts
back to Plaintiff “to come forward with evidence that
the Defendant's asserted reasons for its actions are a
mere pretext for its true discriminatory motives, and that
the actions of the Defendant were really based on
Plaintiff's [protected characteristic].” See
Id. (referencing McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411
U.S. at 802-05); see also Dennis v. Columbia Colleton
Med. Ctr., 290 F.3d 639, 647 (4th Cir. 2002) (noting
that the plaintiff may show pretext, among other methods, by
demonstrating that the asserted justifications, ...