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Flowers v. International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422

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

August 20, 2019




         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker's report and recommendation (“R&R”), ECF No. 15, that the court grant in part and deny in part defendant International Longshoreman's Association Local 1422's (“defendant”) motion to dismiss, ECF No. 10. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R in full which grants in part and denies in part defendant's motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter comes before the court on Yvette Flowers's (“plaintiff”) allegations that her employer, defendant, engaged in gender discrimination by failing to offer her a promotion and retaliating against her following her objections and protests. At the time plaintiff filed the complaint, she was a fifty-four year-old African American woman who had been working for defendant over twenty years, the last eight and a half of which she had been a union official. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 6-7. Plaintiff alleges that in 2009, after becoming a union official, defendant incorrectly classified her as a “casual, ” which did not properly reflect any “seniority classifications.” Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges that while employed by defendant, she was subject to various allegedly discriminatory practices that other similarly situated individuals were not subject to, including verbal statements, limitation and unfair qualification of her working hours, and failure to promote her so that she may “gain seniority.” Id. ¶ 11-22. For example, Plaintiff alleges Mr. Kenneth Riley (“Mr. Riley”), an agent of defendant, told her, “as long as I am here, you will never make seniority.” Id. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff also alleges that after becoming a Union official, defendant incorrectly classified her as a “casual” using a formula for classification that was either outdated or was not similarly applied to her male coworkers. Id. ¶ 15-16. Defendant allegedly has a seniority system that requires a minimum of 700 work hours which determines a worker's priority in the employer's hierarchy: “any person with seniority who fails to accrue 700 work hours shall be dropped one seniority classification.” Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff contends that, inconsistent with this policy, she was not promoted when she met the 700 work hour requirement while her male coworkers (also classified as “officials” like Plaintiff) were not demoted if they failed to obtain their 700 work hour requirement. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff alleges that upon inquiry, she was informed by Mr. Riley that she did not meet the 700 work-hour requirement because she “failed to obtain such hours working on the dock and her 700 work hours would not be used to determine her seniority.” Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff believes this was a “deliberate attempt to discriminate” against her. Id.

         Plaintiff contends that this classification as a “casual” was not correct because she had completed more than seven hundred hours working on the docks as a longshoreman despite defendant's alleged discrimination and retaliation against her. Plaintiff states that she “continued working on the docks while contesting to Mr. Riley the seniority issues.” Id. ¶ 12. Allegedly, Mr. Riley, because of a “gender animus towards her as a female[, ]” then informed plaintiff that she could only work weekdays after 5 p.m. and all day on Fridays, holidays, and weekends in an attempt to limit Plaintiff's ability to work on the docks. Id. ¶12-13. Plaintiff contends that this limitation “drastically limited her ability to gain hours . . . in order to gain seniority” and was “arbitrary and only given to her as opposed to her similarly situated male coworkers who were also Union officials.” Id. Plaintiff claims that she continued to work and attain the “requisite 700 work hours in order to gain seniority” yet “continued to be classified as ‘casual.'” Id. ¶ 14.

         Plaintiff filed suit on January 29, 2019 bringing the following causes of action: (1) breach of contract, (2) breach of contract with fraudulent intent, (3) sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); and (4) retaliation in violation of Title VII. ECF No. 1. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on April 11, 2019. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss on April 25, 2019. ECF No. 11. Defendant filed a reply on May 1, 2019.

         On June 4, 2017, the magistrate judge issued her R&R, recommending that defendant's motion to dismiss be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the R&R recommends that the court find that: (1) Plaintiff's contract-based claims are preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), should be treated as a § 301 hybrid action, and can only proceed as to conduct that occurred six months prior to the date this action was filed; (2) these claims should not be dismissed for failure to join the South Carolina Stevedores Association (“SCSA”) as a party to the action and; (3) Plaintiff's Title VII claims may proceed as to conduct that occurred on or about May 26, 2016.

         On June 18, 2019, defendant filed an objection to the R&R. ECF No. 18. On June 18, plaintiff also filed a document that is titled as an objection to the R&R, but the substance of the document does not actually contain any objections. ECF No. 19. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.


         A. R&R

         The magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The recommendation carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. Id. at 270-71. The court may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge . . . or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the R&R to which a specific objection is made. Id. However, de novo review is unnecessary when a party makes general and conclusory objections without directing a court's attention to a specific error in the magistrate judge's proposed findings. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a specific objection, the court reviews the R&R only for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948).

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         When considering a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, the court must accept the plaintiff's well-plead factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. V., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th ...

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