United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on defendant Brady
Corporation's (“Brady”) renewed motion for
judgment as a matter of law, ECF No. 78. For the reasons set
forth below, the court grants the motion.
action arises from plaintiff Kimberly Rumsey's
(“Rumsey”) claims against Brady for gender
discrimination and unlawful retaliation in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title
VII”). A jury trial was held on March 18-20, 2019. At
the close of Rumsey's case-in-chief, the court granted
Brady's motion for judgment as a matter of law on
Rumsey's gender discrimination claim but denied the
motion as to Rumsey's retaliation claim. Brady renewed
its motion for judgment as a matter of law on the retaliation
claim at the close of evidence. The court sent the case to
the jury and indicated that it would consider the motion
post-verdict if need be. The jury sent several notes to the
court and received an Allen charge. After about four
hours of deliberation, the court received a note from the
jury that said “we have one juror that will not listen
to anyone.” Trial Tr. 642:9-13. The court offered for
the parties to accept a less-than-unanimous verdict, which
Rumsey declined. As a result, the court declared a mistrial.
April 17, 2019, Brady filed its renewed motion for judgment
as a matter of law on the retaliation claim. ECF No. 78.
Rumsey responded on May 6, 2019, ECF No. 82, and Brady
replied on May 13, 2019, ECF No. 83. Pursuant to the
court's instruction, Rumsey filed an amended response on
May 17, 2019, ECF No. 84, and Brady replied to the amended
response on May 24, 2019, ECF No. 85. The motion is now ripe
50(b) provides that “[i]f the court does not grant a
motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a)
[before the case is submitted to the jury], the court is
considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject
to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised
by the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). A trial court
should award judgment as a matter of law to a movant pursuant
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) “if a reasonable jury could only
reach one conclusion based on the evidence or if the verdict
in favor of the non-moving party would necessarily be based
upon speculation and conjecture.” Myrick v. Prime
Ins. Syndicate, Inc., 395 F.3d 485, 489 (4th Cir. 2005).
A movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law “if
the nonmoving party failed to make a showing on an essential
element of his case with respect to which he had the burden
of proof.” Price v. City of Charlotte, 93 F.3d
1241, 1249 (4th Cir. 1996).
as a matter of law is appropriate when the evidence can
support only one reasonable conclusion. See Chaudhry v.
Gallerizzo, 174 F.3d 394, 405 (4th Cir. 1999).
“[T]he evidence and all reasonable inferences from it
are assessed in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party, and the credibility of all evidence favoring the
non-moving party is assumed.” Crinkley v. Holiday
Inns, Inc., 844 F.2d 156, 160 (4th Cir. 1988). If there
is any evidence on which a reasonable jury could return a
verdict in favor of the nonmoving party, judgment as a matter
of law should not be granted. Price, 93 F.3d at
argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
Rumsey's retaliation claim because Rumsey failed to prove
several elements of her case. Title VII prohibits retaliation
“against an employee because, in relevant part, she
‘has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment
practice by this subchapter.'” Boyer-Liberto v.
Fontainebleau Corp., 786 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2015)
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e- 3(a)). A plaintiff may prove
her retaliation case either though direct evidence or the
burden-shifting framework established by McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
Strothers v. City of Laurel, Md., 895 F.3d 317, 327
(4th Cir. 2018). Under the McDonnell Douglas
framework, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie
case of retaliation. Id. The elements of a prima
facie Title VII retaliation case are (1) engagement in a
protected activity; (2) adverse action against the plaintiff;
and (3) a causal link between the protected activity and the
adverse action. Id.; Coleman v. Maryland Court
of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010). If a
plaintiff proves these three elements, then the burden shifts
to the defendant employer “to articulate a legitimate,
non-retaliatory reason for the adverse employment
action.” Anderson v. G.D.C., Inc., 281 F.3d
452, 458 (4th Cir. 2002). If the defendant does so, the
burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to
“demonstrate that the employer's asserted reason is
simply a pretext for retaliation.” Id. Brady
contends that Rumsey failed to meet her burden of proof in
both her prima facie case and in demonstrating pretext. The
court finds that, based on the evidence presented at trial
viewed in the light most favorable to Rumsey, no reasonable
jury could find that Rumsey proved that she was engaged in
activity protected by Title VII, the first element of her
prima facie case.
argues that Rumsey failed to establish the first element of
her prima facie case of retaliation because she did not have
an objectively reasonable belief that Brady unlawfully
discriminated against her based on her gender, meaning she
was not engaged in activity protected by Title VII. As stated
above, to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, a
plaintiff must prove that she engaged in an activity
protected by Title VII. Activity protected by Title VII
includes an employee complaining to her superiors about
suspected violations of Title VII, including suspected gender
discrimination. Strothers, 895 F.3d at 328. Indeed,
in order for a plaintiff to prove that he engaged in a
protected activity, he “need ‘only . . . prove
that he opposed an unlawful employment practice which he
reasonably believed had occurred or was
occurring.'” Coleman v. Loudoun Cty. Sch.
Bd., 294 Fed.Appx. 778, 781 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Peters v. Jenney, 327 F.3d 307, 320 (4th Cir.
2003)). “This requires that the plaintiff: (1) have a
good faith belief that the employer is engaging in an
unlawful employment practice; and (2) that the belief is
objectively reasonable in light of the facts.”
Id. (emphasis added); see also Davis v.
Dimensions Health Corp., 639 F.Supp.2d 610, 617 (D. Md.
2009) (“The United States Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit explains that the inquiry is whether: (1) the
plaintiff subjectively (in good faith) believed that the
defendant engaged in an unlawful action; and (2) whether this
belief was objectively reasonable in light of the
Rumsey testified that she complained to Brady that she
believed that Brady was discriminating against her based on
her gender. Trial Tr. 84:25-86:15. The basis for this belief
was that Rumsey's male counterpart was receiving more
sales quote opportunities through a “quote wheel”
than Rumsey was because Rumsey's male counterpart was on
the wheel, and Rumsey was not. Trial Tr. 85:17-86:2. For the
purposes of its motion, Brady accepts as true that Rumsey had
“a good faith belief” that her absence on the
quote wheel was a result of gender discrimination. However,
Brady argues that Rumsey's belief was not objectively
reasonable in light of the evidence presented at trial.
“Complaining employees are protected by Title VII once
they have an objectively reasonable belief that a
Title VII violation has occurred.” Jordan v.
Alternative Res. Corp., 467 F.3d 378, 380 (4th Cir.
2006) (emphasis in original); see also Strothers,
895 F.3d at 327 (“[C]omplaining employees are protected
if, at the time of their complaint, they ‘have an
objectively reasonable belief in light of all the
circumstances that a Title VII violation has happened or is
in progress.'”). “Because the analysis for
determining whether an employee reasonably believes a
practice is unlawful is an objective one, the issue may be
resolved as a matter of law.” Jordan, 458 F.3d
at 339. “[T]he test for objective reasonableness is not
firmly established in the Fourth Circuit.” Durant
v. SAFE Fed. Credit Union, 2015 WL 926013, at *8 (D.S.C.
Mar. 4, 2015). However, a “[p]laintiff's evidence
cannot establish objective reasonableness under any
standard” when “she has offered no evidence that
could lead a reasonable person to believe that the alleged
offending conduct was . . . motivated” by her gender.
example, in Davis v. Dimensions Health Corp., the
court found that the plaintiff's belief that the
defendant discriminated against him based on his gender and
religion was objectively unreasonable because (1) the
plaintiff conceded that none of his female coworkers ever
made remarks or jokes about men or referenced gender, (2) the
plaintiff admitted to having no knowledge of other male
employees being harassed, and (3) it was undisputed that no
one made derogatory or discriminatory remarks about the
plaintiff's religion. 639 F.Supp.2d at 618. Similarly, in
Perry v. Kappos, the court held that “[n]o
objectively reasonable person in Plaintiff's position
would believe, based on the facts posited by Plaintiff, that
he or she was being discriminated against on the basis of
race, gender, or color” because the record was
“devoid of any evidence, aside from Plaintiff's own
conclusory statements, ” that any other employee was
discriminated on the basis of race, gender, or color and
because the plaintiff offered no evidence corroborating his
allegations of discrimination. 776 F.Supp.2d 182, 196-97
(E.D. Va. March 2, 2011).
testified at trial that she believed that she was subjected
to gender discrimination solely because she was left off a
quote wheel while her male counterpart was not. Trial Tr.
146:18-24. Indeed, Rumsey testified that she had no knowledge
of her male supervisors making any discriminatory comments
about her or other women. Id. 126:13-128:8. Rumsey
also testified that she was not aware of those same male
supervisors discriminating against other women at Brady.
Id. 128:16-23. Furthermore, at the close of
Rumsey's case in chief, the court granted a judgment as a
matter of law against Rumsey on her gender discrimination
claim. The court stated that, even in the light most
favorable to Rumsey, there was no evidence on which a
rational jury could rely to find that Rumsey was
discriminated against on the basis of her gender when she was
removed from the quote wheel. Trial Tr. 402:3-8. Even viewing
the evidence at trial in the light most favorable to Rumsey,
Rumsey simply did not present any ...