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Stewart v. Gestamp South Carolina LLC

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

July 18, 2018

Jimmy Stewart, Jr., Plaintiff,
Gestamp South Carolina LLC, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Jimmy Stewart, Jr. (“Plaintiff”), filed this action alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983.[1] (ECF No. 1). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) (ECF No. 51), issued June 8, 2018, recommending that the court grant defendant Gestamp South Carolina LLC's (“Defendant”) motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 31). On June 22, 2018, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report. (ECF No. 52). On June 29, 2018, Defendant filed a response to Plaintiff's objections. (ECF No. 54).

         The recommendations set forth in the Report have no presumptive weight and the responsibility to make a final determination in this matter remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge, or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The magistrate judge summarized the facts of this action in his Report (ECF No. 51 at 1- 10). Briefly, in the amended complaint, Plaintiff, an African American male, alleges that Defendant, the company that employed him from August 20, 2007, to February 19, 2015, discriminated against him based on his race. (ECF No. 1). Over the course of his employment, Plaintiff worked as a packer, line tech, CMM tech, and quality auditor. (ECF No. 51 at 4-5).[2]As a quality auditor, he received performance based discipline on June 25, 2014; September 15, 2014; November 18, 2014; and February 19, 2015. Id. at 7-8. Defendant discharged Plaintiff upon issuing his February 19, 2015 discipline. Id. at 8. Plaintiff argues that race was a factor in his discharge due to the fact that E.Y., a white employee, remained employed by Defendant despite also receiving four disciplinary actions.[3] Id. Defendant argues that it retained E.Y. because he had not received four disciplinary actions within a 12-month period and that Defendant consistently discharged employees receiving four disciplinary actions within a 12-month period. Id. at 8-9. Defendant argues that it applied its Corrective Counseling and Discharge Policy so as to never allow an employee to remain employed with the company if he or she received four disciplines within 12 months. Id. Further, according to Defendant, if an employee received three disciplines within 12 months and received another discipline after the 12-month anniversary of receiving the earliest discipline, his or her earliest discipline would roll off and he or she would receive a repeat of the last discipline rather than a discharge as long as the last infraction constituted an offense that the company did not consider sufficiently serious as to skip a step and proceed with termination. Id. As noted above, Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to the Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Id. at 1.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party may support or refute that a material fact is not disputed by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Rule 56 mandates entry of summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248.

         The moving party shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Once the moving party makes this showing, however, the opposing party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but rather must, by affidavits or other means permitted by the Rule, set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), (e); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion. Id. at 248.


         In his Report, the magistrate judge recommended that Defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted. (ECF No. 51 at 17). Assuming for the purposes of the Report that Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case of race discrimination, the magistrate judge found that Defendant articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its termination of Plaintiff's employment and that no reasonable trier of fact could find that Plaintiff's race was the reason he was terminated from employment. Id. Plaintiff articulated two objections to the Report. (ECF No. 52).

         First, Plaintiff alleges that the magistrate judge erred by finding that Defendant showed a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Plaintiff's dismissal because Defendant's 12-month rolling practice was not stated in Defendant's employee handbook, because employees are not notified of this practice during employment, and because Defendant provides no proof of where the practice is implemented into written policy. (ECF No. 52 at 6).

         However, this objection merely repeats Plaintiff's arguments from his brief. As the magistrate judge found, Defendant articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its termination of Plaintiff: the fact that he had received four disciplinary actions within a 12-month period while E.Y. did not. And Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of showing by a ...

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