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Cunningham v. TWC Administration LLC

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

January 24, 2019

Terrainio M. Cunningham, Plaintiff,
v.
TWC Administration LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE,

         Through this action, Plaintiff Terrainio Cunningham (“Plaintiff”) seeks recovery from his former employer, TWC Administration LLC (“TWC”), for alleged employment discrimination based on race, retaliation, and hostile work environment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). ECF. No. 1. The matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed March 7, 2018. ECF No. 53. Plaintiff filed his response in opposition on March 30, 2018, after being granted an extension. ECF No. 59. Defendant filed a reply on April 16, 2018. ECF No. 63.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (B)(2)(g), D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pre-trial proceedings and a Report and Recommendation (“Report”). On November 29, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that Defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted. ECF No. 80. The 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. Plaintiff filed his objections on December 13, 2018. ECF No. 81. TWC filed a reply on December 27, 2018. ECF No. 82. This matter is now ripe for resolution.

         After conducting a de novo review as to the objections made, and considering the record, the applicable law, and the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, the court agrees with the Report's recommendation that TWC's motion for summary judgment should be granted. Accordingly, the court adopts the Report by reference in this Order. For the reasons stated in the Report and as further addressed below, TWC is entitled to summary judgment on all claims.

         I. Standard

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make 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 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 to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews only for clear error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating that “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).

         Summary Judgment is appropriate “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). On a motion for summary judgment, the district court must “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1868 (2014) (per curiam)). “Summary Judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits.” Id. Therefore, the court cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Id. at 569. The district court may not “credit[] the evidence of the party seeking summary judgment and fail[] properly to acknowledge key evidence offered by the party opposing that motion.” Id. at 570. However, a party “cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). Therefore, “[m]ere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ennis v. National Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).

         II. Discussion

         a. Race Discrimination Claim

         i. Magistrate Judge's recommendations and Parties' arguments

         The Magistrate Judge concluded Plaintiff does not have direct evidence of discrimination and cannot establish his claim for racial discrimination under the burden-shifting method of proof. ECF No. 80 at 14. The Report recommends dismissal of Plaintiff's discrimination claim because he has failed to show his job performance was satisfactory at the time of his termination. Id. at 17-18. It also found Plaintiff failed to create an issue of fact as to whether his purported comparator is valid. Id. at 19. Regarding Plaintiff's disparate treatment claim involving the investigation of Plaintiff and his team, the Report recommends dismissal as an investigation is not an adverse employment action, and, even if it was, there is no valid comparator. Id. at 20-21. The Report concluded even if Plaintiff did establish a prima facie case of discrimination, TWC met its burden of producing legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiff, which Plaintiff was unable to demonstrate were pretext. Id. at 23-26.

         Plaintiff objected to the Report, arguing there are genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. ECF No. 85. Specifically, he objected to the determination he failed to demonstrate race was a motivating factor in his termination, as “[d]eposition testimony has shown the Defendant has demonstrated a pattern of discriminatory treatment towards African Americans by failing to continue to employ them.” Id. at 3. He contends there are valid comparators who are “in the same job, doing the same things.” Id. at 4. Finally, he argues TWC should have determined who made the customer complaint leading to the investigation and why the complaint was not “provided to the employees so they could try to figure out what, if anything, had occurred.” Id.

         In its reply to Plaintiff's objections, TWC argues Plaintiff failed to present specific objections, record citations, or applicable case law establishing the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending summary judgment. ECF No. 82. It points out Plaintiff's objections do not challenge the Magistrate Judge's recommendation on the failure to promote, retaliation, hostile work environment, or FMLA claims, and the Magistrate Judge did not commit clear error in recommending summary judgment. Id. at 3-4. TWC also argues Plaintiff does not explain how the Magistrate Judge erred regarding his job performance or valid comparators. Id. at 5-6. Finally, it notes Plaintiff's “supposed evidentiary concerns regarding a customer complaint were fully and properly addressed by the Magistrate Judge, ” and should not be overturned based on speculation. Id. at 6-7.

         ii. ...


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