Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Evans v. International Paper Co.

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

March 31, 2018

Deanna Evans, Plaintiff,
v.
International Paper Company, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Deanna Evans filed this action against her former employer, Defendant International Paper Company (“Defendant” or “IP”), alleging that she was subjected to (1) retaliation for engaging in protected activity and (2) a hostile work environment because of her race and gender, both in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17. (ECF No. 1-1 at 22 ¶ 75-25 ¶ 96.) Plaintiff also alleges a claim for pay discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (“EPA”), 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). (ECF No. 1-1 at 26 ¶¶ 97-104.)

         This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 64.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) D.S.C., the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pretrial handling. On February 12, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court deny in part Defendant's Motion as to Plaintiff's claims alleging a hostile work environment and grant the Motion as to the remaining claims. (ECF No. 82 at 48.) Both parties filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, which are presently before the court. (ECF Nos. 88, 89.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS IN PART AND REJECTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to all Plaintiff's claims.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION

         The facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (See ECF No. 82 at 2-12.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein additional facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff that are pertinent to the analysis of her claims.

         Defendant is “one of the world's leading producers of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper, with 52, 000 employees operating in 24 countries.” International Paper Company, http:// http://www.internationalpaper.com/company/about-international-paper (last visited Mar. 29, 2018). “IP hired Plaintiff [a black female] as a Process Engineer in Vicksburg, Mississippi in May 2007 and Plaintiff began working at IP's Eastover, South Carolina Mill, in November 2009 as an Engineer II.” (ECF No. 64-1 at 3 ¶ 4[1] (referencing ECF No. 64-4 at 3:12-18 & 29:22-24).) “Plaintiff's qualifications in her field include a Six Sigma green belt certification, American Society of Quality Certified Quality Auditor Certification, ISO 9001 & 14001 Lead Auditor Certification, Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering, and Master's degree in Business Administration from Gardner-Webb University.” (ECF No. 82 at 2 ¶ 4 (citing ECF No. 64-5 at 4-5).) “During the relevant time period [of Plaintiff's employment], Hai Ninh (Asian male) worked as the Mill Manager at Eastover Mill.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 64-7 at 6 ¶ 11).)

         “Paul Varadi (Caucasian male) was the CPS Business Unit Manager.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 64-7 at 2 ¶ 1).) “Gary Nyman (Caucasian male) was the Finished Products Department's Business Unit Manager.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 64-7 at 3 ¶ 2).) Soon after starting at the Eastover Mill, Plaintiff heard comments from two white males, Rocky Mucci and Matthew Vale, that “they didn't want me and they were forced to keep me.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 71-1 at 25:139:20-24).)

         “On June 23, 2010, Plaintiff was promoted to an Area Process Manager (APM) position” in chemical additives. (ECF No. 82 at 3 ¶ 6 (citing ECF No. 64-4 at 29:25-30:10).) In this role, “Plaintiff headed major projects at Eastover Mill to achieve International Standard for Organization (“ISO”) 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications, the latter of which allowed Eastover Mill's products to be sold in Europe.” (Id. at 4 ¶ 7 (citing ECF No. 64-4 at 18:7-19:9 & 31:1- 24; ECF No. 64-9 at 2 ¶ 3).) “Varadi worked closely with Plaintiff as a management sponsor of these ISO projects.” (Id. ¶ 8 (citing ECF No. 64-7 at 2 ¶ 2).) “Plaintiff was the face of the projects and always presented ISO information at mill-wide meetings.” (Id. ¶ 9 (citing ECF No. 64-4 at 46:13-18).)

         In October 2013, Varadi selected Plaintiff to fill a newly created position “of Technical Quality Leader (“TQL”), which meant she was responsible for the interface between [Finished Products Department] FPD and the customer to ensure that the products consistently conformed to the customer's specifications. (Id. ¶ 10 & at 5 ¶ 11 (citing ECF No. 64-7 at 3 ¶ 3).) Varidi “selected Plaintiff because he had seen her performance on the ISO certifications, they had worked closely together on the ISO 9001 project, and Varadi wanted to work with Plaintiff.” (Id. at 5 ¶ 11 (citing ECF Nos. 64-7 at 3 ¶ 4 & 64-4 at 24:4-25).) “While working under Varadi, IP's CEO awarded Plaintiff the prestigious Chairman's Coin award and a Key Driver Award.” (Id. ¶ 12 (citing, e.g., ECF Nos. 64-4 at 25:22-24 & 64-7 at 3-4 ¶ 5).) “Varadi sponsored Plaintiff for these awards and worked to ensure that management at Eastover Mill support[ed] her as well.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 64-7 at 3-4 ¶ 5).) On January 10, 2014, Plaintiff received a “Results Exceeded Commitment” rating on her Contribution Summary Assessment (“CSA”), an annual performance evaluation prepared for 2013 by Varadi. (ECF No. 64-1 at 5 ¶ 13 (referencing ECF No. 64-5 at 7-12).)

         In October 2014, Plaintiff was one of several employees interviewed by Defendant's Human Resources Manager Sabrina Townsend regarding complaints of discrimination originating from the FPD. (ECF No. 71-12 at 11:40:12-22 & 13:46:12-48:9.) “Plaintiff told Townsend about the ‘uninclusion' she experienced from Nyman and how he did not engage with her and give her leadership roles as he did White male employees.” (ECF No. 82 at 5 ¶ 15 (referencing ECF No. 71-1 at 46:224:2-47:227:6.) More specifically, in defense of her allegation that Nyman was racist, Plaintiff stated to Townsend the following particulars:

I told Sabrina the behaviors. When I go to approach him, he looks and does not respond. When my white male counterpart come and talk to him, he's feeling very comfortable. He's willing to help and engage. He's willing to help them through whatever situation or troubleshooting problems they may have. He doesn't say any slurs to them at all, and he's been very supportive. I have told him several events that w[ere] issues in finished products, and he says, oh, that's just Rocky. I can see you being targeted.

(ECF No. 71-1 at 46:224:21-47:225:7.)

Okay. Every time I have a communication with Gary, it's always negative. You promote people up way too fast. The pay salary, I was just there not too long ago. I can see that you're being targeted. I would always go to the morning meetings and I would announce different things within ISO or quality. The room, the environment of the managers would come back and be very combative and try to say this is not your role or you don't have the right to say this, or Roy, he sits there. He doesn't say anything about it. I go to Gary and he says, well, I see you being targeted, but does not stop the behavior. His team managers have made comments during people reviews, these people act like they're from a shoot ‘em up bang-bang neighborhood.

(Id. at 47:225:17-226:8.)

         On January 21, 2015, Varadi met with Plaintiff to discuss her CSA. (ECF No. 64-7 at 4 ¶ 8.) During their meeting, Plaintiff “raised the issue that she felt that at times she did not get information passed on to her from individuals in the Finished Products [D]epartment, and that these individuals instead went to another CPS department colleague, Roy Cummings.” (Id.) After this meeting, Plaintiff contemplated resigning from her employment with Defendant. (ECF No. 71-1 at 24:134:21-136:10.[2]) A week after her meeting with Varadi, Plaintiff met with Ninh. Plaintiff complained to Ninh about the environment at the Eastover Mill as follows:

The other conversation was about the environment. I told him the environment is very uncomfortable. It's stressful. It's hostile. There is no support. It's not a win-win. And I went through several examples of the comments that was being said from finished products. The lack of inclusion, the comments around my natural hair, the comments around my afro. I pointed out different events through the customer visits, through troubleshooting, through representing of being part of a business meeting, like, for instance, this envelope, and told him that it is unbearable and it is not a win-win.

(ECF No. 71-1 at 42:168:19-33:169:8.) On January 30, 2015, Plaintiff received a “Results Met Commitment” rating on her CSA prepared by Varadi. (ECF No. 64-1 at 6 ¶ 18 (citing ECF No. 64-5 at 17-21).)

         “On February 16, 2015, Johnny Barfield, a white male FPD manager, told Evans her nickname was Angela Davis, a black female with an afro.” (ECF No. 71 at 33 (citing ECF No. 71-9 at 12).) “When asked why, he told Evans it was because of her she was a civil rights activist that was known for Black Panther.” (Id.) Because Barfield's comment exemplified the behavior that she was continuously complaining about, Plaintiff tendered her resignation to Varadi, Ninh and Human Resources Manager Walt Partrich on March 10, 2015. (ECF No. 64-1 at 9 ¶ 30 (referencing, e.g., ECF No. 64-5 at 3).) In her resignation letter, Plaintiff stated the following particulars:

I am writing to submit my resignation from the position of Technical Quality Leader at International Paper effective March 24, 2015. It was not easy to make the decision to leave after seven years. Although my time with International Paper has been, on the whole, satisfying and productive; it also had its challenges.
I would like to thank you for the great experience you have provided me and I believe I have fulfilled my duties to the best of my ability. One of the highlights of my career was implementing the quality and environmental management system that resulted in ISO 9001 & 14001 certification.
If there is anything I can do to make this transition easier for the company over the next two weeks, please let me know and I'd be more than happy to assist! This includes assisting in recruiting and training my replacement.
Thank you again for the opportunity to work with International Paper. I wish you and the staff all the best with your future endeavors.”

(ECF No. 64-5 at 3.)

         On March 24, 2015, Plaintiff worked her last day for Defendant. (ECF No. 71-1 at 6:62:9-12.) Plaintiff participated in an exit interview conducted by Ninh and Partrich. (ECF No. 82 at 10 ¶ 36.) “[S]he reminded Ninh and Partrich that she had previously raised concerns about racially discriminatory actions, including comments about her natural hair, exclusion from client visits, a lack of inclusion and constant negative comments from white males in the FPD.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 71-1 at 42:206:19-43:211:17).) “Plaintiff expressed frustration that no action had been taken in response to her complaints.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 71-1 at 42:206:19- 43:211:17).) “Plaintiff informed Ninh and Partrich that such treatment was very stressful and it forced her to resign.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 71-1 at 42:206:19-43:211:17).) “Plaintiff stated that she reminded Ninh and Partrich of the names of the personnel she believed were creating a hostile work environment-Varadi, Cronin, Rocky Mucci, Johnny Taylor, and Nyman.” (Id. (citing ECF No. 71-1 at 42:206:19-43:211:17).)

         On July 7, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (“SCHAC”). (ECF No. 71-6.) In the Charge, Plaintiff alleged that she suffered retaliation and was discriminated against because of her race and sex in violation of Title VII and South Carolina Human Affairs Law. (ECF No. 71-6 at 2.) In the Charge, Plaintiff stated the following particulars:

I was employed by Respondent since October 2007. My last position was Technical Quality Leader. During my tenure at Eastover Mill, I was subjected to race and gender discrimination, harassment (hostile work environment) from September 5, 2014 through March 24, 2015 because of my race and gender. Respondent treated similarly situated white and male employees more favorably. I complained to my supervisors and Human Resources about such treatment.
Despite these complaints, nothing changed. There were no corrective actions given to the individuals who created the hostile work environment and my employer failed to stop the disparate treatment. I was subjected to an emotional roller coaster that adversely affected my health. I felt I had no other option, but to resign due to conditions being intolerable. I was constructively discharged from my position on March 24, 2015.
I therefore believe I was discriminated against because of race (black), gender (female), and retaliated against for opposing discriminatory treatment, which is declared unlawful by the South Carolina Human Affairs Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

(ECF No. 71-6 at 2.)

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an action on March 18, 2016, in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County (South Carolina) alleging claims for (1) hostile work environment and discrimination on account of race (Count 1), hostile work environment and discrimination on account of gender (Count 2), retaliation (Count 3) and pay discrimination (Count 4). (ECF No. 1-1 at 22 ¶ 75-25 ¶ 96.) After removing the matter to this court on April 19, 2016 (ECF No. 1), Defendant answered the Complaint on April 26, 2016, denying its allegations. (ECF No. 5.) On June 5, 2017, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 64.) Plaintiff filed opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on July 7, 2017, to which Defendant filed a Reply in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on July 21, 2017. (ECF Nos. 71, 73.)

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 D.S.C., the Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation on February 12, 2018, recommending that “Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 64, be denied as to Plaintiff's claim for constructive discharge based on a hostile work environment and granted as to her Title VII retaliation and EPA claims.” (ECF No. 82 at 48.) On March 9, 2018, the parties both filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF Nos. 88, 89.)

         II. JURISDICTION

         This court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims via 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as they arise under laws of the United States, and also via 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), which empowers district courts to hear claims “brought under” Title VII.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to - including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made - for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         B. Summary Judgment Generally

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123-24 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party may not oppose a motion for summary judgment with mere allegations or denial of the movant's pleading, but instead must “set forth specific facts” demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). All that is required is that “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. The Report and Recommendation

         In the Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge first addressed Defendant's argument that Plaintiff “failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by not including in her Charge certain allegations asserted in her lawsuit.” (ECF No. 64-1 at 15.) The Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff's Charge sufficiently “put Defendant on notice of all of her ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.