United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
F. ANDERSON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff, Laura Nimmons (“Nimmons”) filed this
action against her former employer, Defendant South Carolina
Department of Corrections (“SCDC”), alleging race
discrimination and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964. (ECF No. 1).
removed the present matter to this Court on September 23,
2016. (ECF No. 1). On September 12, 2017, the Defendant moved
for summary judgment. (ECF No. 22). The Plaintiff responded
to the Defendant's Motion on October 18, 2017 (ECF No.
33), and the Defendant replied to the Response on October 25,
2017 (ECF No. 35).
in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil
Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.), the case was referred to a
Magistrate Judge for Review. The Magistrate issued a Report
and Recommendation (“Report”) on April 23, 2018.
(ECF No. 41). On May 4, 2018, the Plaintiff filed objections
to the Report. (ECF No. 46). The Defendant replied to
Plaintiff's Objections on May 14, 2018. (ECF No. 47).
this matter is ripe for review.
Magistrate Judge assigned to this action prepared a
thorough Report and Recommendation and opines that
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 22)
should be granted. (ECF No. 41). The Report sets forth, in
detail, the relevant facts and standards of law on this
matter, and this Court incorporates those facts and standards
without a recitation.
district court is only required to conduct a de novo review
of the specific portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report
to which an objection is made. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); Carniewski v. W.Va. Bd. of
Prob. & Parole, 974 F.2d 1330 (4th Cir. 1992). In
the absence of specific objections to portions of the
Magistrate's Report, this Court is not required to give
an explanation for adopting the recommendation. See Camby
v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Thus, the
Court must only review those portions of the Report to which
Plaintiff has made a specific written objection. Diamond
v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 316
(4th Cir. 2005).
has made several objections to the Report, most of which are
repetitions of Plaintiff's arguments in her Response to
the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No.
33). However, Plaintiff has made several specific objections
to the Report. Each objection is addressed below.
Objection 1 - Retaliation
generally objects to the Magistrate's finding that her
retaliation claim should be dismissed. (ECF No. 6 p. 2');">46 p. 2).
Specifically, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate's
finding that the Defendant's proffered reason for firing
Plaintiff was not pretext for discrimination. The
Defendant's argues that it fired Plaintiff because
Plaintiff surreptitiously copied personnel files and because
Plaintiff initially denied doing so. However, Plaintiff
argues that she copied her own personnel file, which is not a
firing offense, and thus the Defendant's reason is
pretext for its retaliation against Plaintiff for filing a
hostile work environment claim against Defendant three weeks
before Defendant terminated her employment.
VII makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an
activity that is protected under the statute, including
filing a complaint with the equal employment opportunity
commission. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). The
elements of a prima facie retaliation claim are as
follows: (1) the employee engaged in an activity protected
under the statute; (2) the employer acted adversely against
the employee; and (3) there was a causal connection between
the employee's protected activity and the employer's
adverse action. See Ziskie v. Mineta, 547 F.3d 220,
229 (4th Cir. 2008).
claims are generally analyzed under the McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting framework when the Plaintiff
introduces circumstantial evidence to support her claim.
See Smith v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 202 F.3d
234, 248 (4th Cir. 2000); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). Under this framework, a
plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of
discrimination, and then the burden shifts to the defendant
to produce evidence that it had a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for its actions against the
employee-plaintiff. See Merritt v. Old Dominion
Freight, 601 F.3d 289, 294 (4th Cir. 2010). The
defendant's burden is a “burden of production, not
persuasion.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).
defendant meets this burden, the plaintiff must then prove,
by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's
proffered reason for its action or actions was “pretext
for discrimination.” Merritt, 601 F.3d at 294
(quoting Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine,
450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). The Supreme Court has held that
“a plaintiff's prima facie case, combined with
sufficient evidence to find that the employer's asserted
justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to
conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated.”
Reeves, 530 U.S. at 135. The Court further stated,
[T]here will be instances where, although the plaintiff has
established a prima facie case and set forth sufficient
evidence to reject the defendant's explanation, no
rational factfinder could conclude that the action was
discriminatory. For instance, an employer would be entitled
to judgment as a matter of law if the record conclusively
revealed some other, nondiscriminatory reason for the
employer's decision, or if the plaintiff created only a
weak issue of fact as to whether the employer's reason
was untrue and there was abundant and uncontroverted
independent evidence that no discrimination had occurred.
Id. at 148. In these such circumstances, summary
judgment would be appropriate. See id.
activities fall into two distinct categories: participation
or opposition.” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports
Auth., 149 F.3d 253 258-59 (4th Cir. 1998) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)). “An employer may not
retaliate against an employee for participating in an ongoing
investigation or proceeding under Title VII, nor may the
employer take adverse employment action against an employee
for opposing discriminatory practices in the
workplace.” See Id. at 259. Some of these
protected activities include the following: “(1) making
a charge; (2) testifying; (3) assisting; or (4) participating
in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing
under Title VII.” Id.
Plaintiff engaged in a protected activity when she filed a
hostile work environment complaint (“HWE
Complaint”), wherein she described a racially charged
conversation between Plaintiff and her coworkers. In that
report, Plaintiff reported an incident wherein her fellow
employees accused Plaintiff of having family members in the
Ku Klux Klan (“KKK”). See (ECF No. 33-16
p. 2). Plaintiff reported this incident on July 17, 2015.
Id. The Fourth Circuit has recognized that the KKK
is a group dedicated to racial hate. See Smith v. United
States, 262 F.2d 50, 50 (4th Cir. 1958). Thus, Plaintiff
has at least presented a jury question regarding whether she
engaged in a protected activity when she reported that her
fellow employees had accused her of having ties to the KKK.
the Plaintiff experienced an adverse employment action when
she was fired. Thus, Plaintiff has established the second
element of the prima facie test for retaliation.
the Plaintiff must establish whether there was a causal
connection between the protected activity and the adverse
employment action. Such a causal connection may be
established through a temporal proximity between an
employee's protected activity and an employer's
adverse employment action. See Waag v. Sotera Defense
Solns., Inc., 857 F.3d 179, 192 (4th Cir. 2017)
(“[F]or purposes of establishing a prima facie case [of
retaliation], close temporal proximity between the activity
protected by the statute and an adverse employment action may
suffice to demonstrate causation.”); Williams v.
Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 457 (4th Cir. 1989)
(finding a causal connection between protected activity and
discharge where discharge occurred about three months after
plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint). Here, the
Defendant fired Plaintiff about three weeks after she filed
her hostile work environment complaint.
Defendant argues, and the Magistrate agrees, that the
Plaintiff likely broke the causal chain by copying her
personnel documents and initially denying that she did so.
Although she initially denied copying the documents (ECF No.
22-4 p. 2), she admitted to doing so on the same day at
around 12:00 p.m. (ECF No. 22-5 p. 2).
complained about the KKK conversation on July 17; she was
suspended on August 5; and she was terminated on August 11.
As the Magistrate noted, this temporal proximity would