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Clayton v. IFA Rotorion

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

March 25, 2019

April G. Clayton, Plaintiff,
IFA Rotarion, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff April G. Clayton's (“Plaintiff” or “Clayton”) complaint against Defendant IFA Rotarion (“Defendant” or “IFA”), alleging claims for (1) race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967 (“Title VII”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII and § 1981; (3) wrongful termination in violation of § 1981; and (4) wrongful termination. (ECF No. 1-1 at 11-17.) Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for initial review, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.). On November 27, 2018, Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker issued a Report and Recommendation, outlining the issues and recommending that the Court grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's race discrimination and wrongful discharge claims but deny Defendant's motion as to Plaintiff's retaliation claim. Both parties filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report, and the matter is ripe for review. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's Report and grants in part and denies in part Defendant's motion for summary judgment.


         In May 2013, Plaintiff, who is a black female, began working for Defendant as a temporary employee. On June 13, 2014, during her temporary employment, Plaintiff gave birth to a baby girl. According to Plaintiff, no one at IFA knew about her pregnancy other than Production Supervisor Anthony Brabham (“Mr. Brabham”).

         On or about August 25, 2014, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a permanent employee working under the supervision of Mr. Brabham. Plaintiff's infant daughter passed away on September 1, 2014, and Plaintiff took two days of bereavement leave under Defendant's Bereavement Leave Policy, which provides employees up to three days of paid leave due to the death of an immediate family member. Pursuant to the Bereavement Leave Policy, employees must “submit proof of the necessity for Bereavement Leave upon returning to work.” (ECF No. 27-8.) Specifically, employees must “provide verifiable documentation (death certificate, newspaper article, note from funeral home or church) illustrating [their] relationship with the deceased, ” and the employee's name must be visible on the document. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that Rebecca Hoffman (“Ms. Hoffman”), Human Resources Generalist at the time, informed her that an obituary was sufficient documentation under the policy. Plaintiff claims that she provided Ms. Hoffman with a copy of the memorial program from her daughter's funeral and that Ms. Hoffman made a photocopy of the program. According to Plaintiff, Ms. Hoffman accepted the program as adequate documentation. Although Plaintiff claims she provided Ms. Hoffman with both the front and back pages of the program, Defendant claims Plaintiff provided only the front cover, which states: “In Memory of Onyia Mercedes Ashe, ” (hereinafter “Baby Ashe”), “June 13, 2014-September 1, 2014.” (ECF No. 27-1 at 80:11-18; ECF No. 27-7.) The back cover states that Baby Ashe “leaves behind mother April Clayton.” (ECF No. 29-2 at 45.) Plaintiff received pay for her two days of bereavement leave per Defendant's policy. (ECF No. 27-1 at 97:10-15.)

         In October of 2014, Plaintiff transferred to a team under the supervision of Bill Goss (“Mr. Goss”). On or around October 6, 2014, after joining Mr. Goss's team, Plaintiff requested four hours of personal time off (“PTO”) for October 22, 2014. (ECF No. 27-4.) On or around October 13, 2014, a coworker informed Plaintiff that a manager had referred to Plaintiff as a “slow black worker.” (ECF No. 29 at 7; ECF No. 27-1 at 128:25-129:4.) Although Plaintiff did not know the name of the manager who made this remark, Plaintiff knew his face and confirmed that he was not one of her supervisors. (ECF No. 27-1 at 146:10-25.) Plaintiff claims that she reported this comment the same day, October 13, 2014, to a supervisor and to someone in Human Resources named “Debbie.” (Id. at 148:1-24.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant did nothing in response to her complaint because Plaintiff still saw the individual who made the comment on the floor. (Id. at 129:12-17.)

         In early October, Plaintiff claims she told Human Resources that she was going to call the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (“LLR”) and report Defendant for failing to display the appropriate labor posters in the workplace. (ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 28-29; ECF No. 29 at 6-7; ECF No. 27-1 at 124:17-23.) Plaintiff claims that she reported the violation to the LLR. (Dkt. No. 1-1 ¶ 29.)

         Around October 15, 2014, in response to the PTO request that Plaintiff submitted on October 6, 2014, Mr. Goss informed Plaintiff that she did not have any available PTO, but could use vacation time. (ECF No. 27-1 at 105:25-106:6, 107:7-13; Dkt. No. 27-4.) Plaintiff claims that she had recently checked her PTO and had available hours, and she asserts that she informed Mr. Goss he was mistaken, which prompted him to initiate further review of Plaintiff's attendance and leave records. (ECF No. 27-1 at 106:3-6.)

         According to Defendant, upon reviewing Plaintiff's attendance records, Ms. Hoffman realized that Plaintiff had submitted insufficient documentation in support of her bereavement leave. (ECF No. 27 at 2-3.) Specifically, the front cover of the memorial program did not indicate any relationship between Plaintiff and the deceased, and Ms. Hoffman was not aware that Plaintiff had recently given birth. (Id.; ECF No. 27-1 at 78:9-16.)

         On October 16, 2014, Plaintiff met with Ms. Hoffman to discuss her available leave, and Ms. Hoffman confirmed that Plaintiff only had vacation time available. (ECF No. 27-1 at 107:15-108:19.) According to Defendant, Ms. Hoffman also explained to Plaintiff that she needed to submit complete documentation in support of her bereavement leave per Defendant's policy, and that she would be suspended until she did so. (ECF No. 27 at 2-3; ECF No. 27-9.) Plaintiff acknowledges that she and Ms. Hoffman discussed her vacation time during their meeting, but Plaintiff claims they did not discuss her bereavement leave or the documentation in support of it, and no one else was present during the meeting on October 16, 2014. (ECF No. 27-1 at 119:3-120:25.)

         According to Plaintiff, when she arrived at work on October 17, 2014, an employee told her that she had been suspended. (Id. at 119:3-120:25.) Plaintiff claims she did not know the reason for her suspension and that she did not contact Human Resources to figure out the reason for her suspension. (Id. at 121:5-24.) On October 22, 2014, Plaintiff received a letter from Ms. Hoffman dated October 20, 2014, explaining that Plaintiff's employment would be terminated if she did not submit additional documentation in support of her bereavement leave by October 22, 2014. (ECF No. 27-9; ECF No. 27-1 at 120:13-121:4.) Thus, Plaintiff did not receive Ms. Hoffman's letter until the deadline prescribed by Defendants to submit the appropriate paperwork.

         Plaintiff did not submit any further documentation to Ms. Hoffman. Plaintiff claims she did not submit another copy of the memorial program because her bereavement leave had been approved and paid a month prior, and Plaintiff felt the suspension was the result of her more recent complaints about the racial remark and the labor posters. (ECF No. 27-1 at 124:10-23.) Plaintiff's employment was terminated. (ECF No. 27 at p. 4.)

         On January 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging discrimination and retaliation based on race. Plaintiff received her right to sue letter from the EEOC on March 4, 2017, and filed this action on March 28, 2017, in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, Charleston County. On May 5, 2017, Defendant removed the case to this Court.

         STANDARDS ...

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