United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
AKEBONO BRAKE CORPORATION, Defendant.
CAROLINA PERSONNEL SERVICES, INC. and CAROLINA INDUSTRIAL STAFFING, INC., Successor in Interest for Carolina Personnel Services, Inc., Third-Party Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT ON
CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
this action, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”) seeks relief from Akebono Brake
Corporation (“Akebono”) for alleged unlawful
employment practices on the basis of religion. ECF No. 19
(Amended Complaint). The EEOC alleges Akebono, acting through
its temporary labor services provider (“TLSP”),
discriminated against Clintoria Burnett
(“Burnett”) by refusing to hire her and by
failing to reasonably accommodate Burnett's sincerely
held religious belief that she is required to wear skirts or
dresses rather than pants. ECF No. 19 at 1 (“Nature of
Action”). Akebono denies it engaged in any unlawful
employment practice. ECF Nos. 21, 72 (Answer and Amended
addition to answering, Akebono filed a Third-Party Complaint
against its TLSP, Carolina Personnel Services, Inc.
(“CPS”), and against CPS's alleged successor
in interest, Carolina Industrial Staffing, Inc.
(“CIS”). ECF No. 14. Akebono alleges these
entities are entirely (or at least primarily) responsible for
any unlawful actions that may have occurred. Id.
Akebono seeks indemnification or contribution for any
judgment that may be awarded against it as well as for its
costs and fees in defense of this action and, arguably, other
damages for CPS's alleged breach of the Staffing
Agreement through which it provided TLSP services to Akebono.
CIS moved for judgment on the pleadings. ECF Nos. 45, 47. The
matter is before the court for review of a Report and
Recommendation (“Report”) that recommends these
motions be granted. For reasons set forth below, the court
adopts the Report and grants the motions for judgment on the
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule
73.02 (B)(2), D.S.C., this matter was referred to United
States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges for pre-trial
proceedings. On February 8, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued
a Report recommending the motions for judgment on the
pleadings be granted. ECF No. 69. This recommendation relies
on the doctrine of “obstacle preemption.”
Id. at 5-7. As the Report explains, obstacle
preemption precludes a defendant from pursuing third-party
claims for contribution or indemnification for damages that
may be awarded under certain statutes including Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Id. The Report assumes
without deciding that Akebono might have some independent
claim for relief against CPS or CIS (e.g., a claim for breach
of contract), but concludes such a claim cannot proceed in
this action because there is no proper third-party claim
under Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to
which it might be joined. Id. at 7, 8.
Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and
requirements for filing objections to the Report and the
serious consequences if they failed to do so. Akebono filed
objections on February 22, 2018. ECF No. 74. CPS filed a
reply in opposition to Akebono's objections on March 8,
2018, which CIS later joined. ECF Nos. 78, 81. The matter is now
ripe for resolution.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility for making a final determination remains with
the court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976).
The court is charged with making a de novo determination of
any portion of the Report to which a specific objection is
made. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in
part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit
the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In the absence of a specific
objection, the court reviews only for clear error. See
Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416
F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (“in the absence of a
timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a
de novo review, but instead must ‘only satisfy itself
that there is no clear error on the face of the record in
order to accept the recommendation.'”) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note)).
Preemption vs. Factual Defense.
first objection, Akebono argues the Report errs in finding
its claims barred by obstacle preemption because it is not
attempting to shift its entire liability to CPS. ECF No. 74
at 7 (explaining it “is not attempting to escape
responsibility for its own actions; but [is] only pursuing a
defense to the extent it is liable to Plaintiff because of
acts and/or omissions of CPS”); see also Id.
at 9 (“Akebono is seeking a defense and to the extent
it may be found liable for Title VII violations committed
by CPS employees [an] indemnification for that
liability.”). This argument misconstrues the
recommendation and ignores the EEOC's concession that it
is not seeking and cannot obtain recovery from Akebono for
actions of CPS. See ECF No. 57.
explained in the Report, obstacle preemption precludes claims
for indemnification or contribution. ECF No. 69 at 5-7. Thus,
it is irrelevant whether Akebono is trying to shift all or
part of any liability that may be assessed against it for
Title VII violations.
critically, as the EEOC has conceded and the Report
recognizes, Akebono may be held liable only if and to the
extent it participated in discriminatory conduct. Thus, there
is no risk Akebono will be held liable for wrongful acts in
which it did not participate. To the extent the EEOC fails to
establish Akebono is, itself, responsible for unlawful
discrimination, it cannot obtain judgment against Akebono.