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Sullivan v. Rudco South, LLC

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

August 24, 2018

Allen C. Sullivan, Plaintiff,
v.
Rudco South, LLC, Defendant.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. MCDONALD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. 24). The plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, alleges that the defendant, his former employer, discriminated against him based upon his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (doc. 1 at 5). Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(A), and Local Civil 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.

         The defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on May 18, 2018 (doc. 24). On that same date, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the plaintiff was advised of the summary judgment procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately (doc. 25). The plaintiff filed his response in opposition to the motion on June 4, 2018 (doc. 27), and the defendant filed a reply on June 11, 2018 (doc. 29).

         FACTS PRESENTED

         The defendant is a company that manufactures environmental, recycling, and waste handling equipment (doc. 24-2, Rudolph aff. ¶ 1). The plaintiff, who is a black male, was employed by the defendant as a line welder from June 24, 2016, until January 18, 2017 (id. ¶ 2 & ex. 2; doc. 1 at 5). According to the affidavit of Mark Rudolph, the defendant's president, during an approximately four-month period, the plaintiff was disciplined five separate times for getting into altercations with different coworkers (doc. 24-2, Rudolph aff. ¶ 2). Rudolph states in his affidavit that the plaintiff was warned to stop the conduct on September 8, 9, 14, and 26, 2016, and January 17, 2017; each coworker involved was also written up and warned they could have no more arguments; and none of the coworkers who were disciplined repeated the offense except the plaintiff, who continued to get into altercations (id. ¶¶ 2-3). Rudolph further states that the plaintiff argued and verbally attacked his coworkers when he asked them for help or they asked him for help (id. ¶ 3). He states that supervisors discovered that in each instance the plaintiff accused each coworker of being a racist, but that none of the employees with whom he got into altercations ever said anything about the plaintiffs race (id. ¶ 4). Rudolph states in his affidavit that the defendant attempted to place the plaintiff in different work areas with different coworkers, but it did not resolve the issue (id. ¶ 3).

         Rudolph submitted the plaintiffs personnel records as an attachment to his affidavit (id. ¶ 6 & ex. 2). Those records consist of the plaintiffs personnel disciplinary action forms showing verbal warnings on September 8, 9, and 14, 2016 (id., ex. 2). The records also contain a written warning given to the plaintiff on September 26, 2016, which states, “Not getting along with employees in every area we've put him” (id.). The document is signed by a supervisor and states that the plaintiff refused to sign the warning (id.). The records also contain a discharge notice dated January 18, 2017, which states, “Not getting along with fellow employees and a verbal confrontation in shop then it carried to the parking lot” (id). The notice further states, “Terminate employment this is the 5th warning and or write up” (id). It states that the plaintiff refused to sign the notice (id.).

         In response to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff states that the defendant's “statement . . . is not true, ” and he has “only been to the office” on September 26, 2016, when a white coworker, Doug, told supervisors that he could not work with the plaintiff because he was black (doc. 27 at 1, 3-4). He claims that he was called to the office and written up, but he refused to sign the form because he “didn't do anything to nobody” (id. at 4). He further states “the only time [he] went to the office” was on January 18, 2017, when he was told that he had been written up five times and was fired (id. at 1). He claims that he was told that he was being terminated from employment because he was about to fight a coworker in the parking lot, but the plaintiff claims that he was not about to fight anyone (id. at 2).

         The plaintiff also states that he went to the office to complain about a coworker on August 6, 2016, when the coworker stated that he did not want to work with black people (id. at 3). He claims that he was told that “that's the way these white guys are in the welding shop” (id.). The plaintiff also states that on January 6, 2017, a black coworker, James, came to his work station to discuss problems he was having with white coworkers (id. at 4). A supervisor saw on a camera that James was at the plaintiff's work station for 10 to 15 minutes, and the supervisor called the plaintiff into the office and wrote him up (id. at 4-5). He further states that on January 17, 2017, he asked a new, white coworker to take some parts to a scrap bin, and the coworker replied, “I'm not your slave” (id. at 5). The plaintiff went to the office to complain, and he was told to get his stuff and go home for the day because he was “not going along with the program” (id.). The plaintiff states that the next day, January 18, 2017, he was called into the office and terminated from employment because none of his white coworkers wanted to work with him (id. at 6).

         The plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (“SCHAC”) on February 13, 2017 (doc. 24-3). In the charge, he stated that the defendant discriminated and retaliated against him because of his race between August 6, 2016, and January 18, 2017 (id.). The plaintiff also filed a charge with the SCHAC on February 22, 2017, alleging that the discrimination took place between September 26, 2016, and January 18, 2017 (doc. 27-1 at 1). The SCHAC issued a finding of “no cause” in a notice of right to sue on September 7, 2017 (doc. 24-4). The plaintiff filed his complaint in this action on December 27, 2017 (docs. 1, 11).

         APPLICABLE LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 states, as to a party who has moved for summary judgment: “The court shall grant summary judgment 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). As to the first of these determinations, a fact is deemed “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings; rather, he must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. 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. “Only 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.

         While the federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case, see, e.g., Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth a federal claim, nor can the court assume the existence of a ...


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