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Reynolds v. Carolina Health Centers Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

August 20, 2019

Vershell Reynolds, Plaintiff,
Carolina Health Centers, Inc., Defendants.



         On January 22, 2018, Plaintiff Vershell Reynolds (“Plaintiff”) brought this action against her former employer, Defendant Carolina Health Centers, Inc. (“Defendant”), alleging racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; racial discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment claims in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”); and state law claims for breach of contract and breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act. (ECF No. 1 at 5-12). On October 4, 2018, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 27). On November 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss (ECF No. 30), to which Defendant filed a reply on November 9, 2018, (ECF No. 33).

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. On January 31, 2019, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation (the “Report”) recommending that Defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted. (ECF No. 38). Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on February 11, 2019, (ECF No. 39), to which Defendant filed a reply on February 25, 2019, (ECF No. 41).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

          Plaintiff, who is African American, began working for Defendant in November 2012. (ECF Nos. 27-2 at 4; 27-3 at 1). Plaintiff's initial job title was “Pharmacy Tech I” and her initial hourly rate of pay was $13.00. (ECF No. 27-2 at 4). She had previously applied to work as a pharmacy technician for Defendant but was told she had to obtain her certification to be eligible for the job. (ECF Nos. 27-2 at 4). Plaintiff obtained her state pharmacy technician certification in March 2012. (ECF No. 1 at 2).

         Defendant internally classifies its pharmacy tech positions as Pharmacy Tech I, II or III, with Pharmacy Tech I serving as an entry-level position. (ECF No. 27-3 at 10).[1] There is also a “Certified Pharmacy Tech” position but only two employees, according to Defendant, fell within this classification. Id. According to Defendant, most Pharmacy Techs are certified as well. Id.

         In December 2012, Defendant hired Phillip Driggers, who obtained his certification in 2008, and Michelle Millwood, who had been certified since 2001. (ECF Nos. 27-2 at 4; 27-3 at 3). Driggers and Millwood, both Caucasian, were issued identification badges bearing the title “Certified Pharmacy Technician” and were paid at a higher rate than Plaintiff. (ECF Nos. 27-1 at 9; 27-2 at 4). Plaintiff noticed that Driggers and Millwood had badges displaying the job title of “Certified Pharmacy Technician” while hers displayed the “Pharmacy Tech I” job title. (ECF No. 27-2 at 4-5). Plaintiff also noticed these same classifications while browsing through a binder containing the names and job titles of all Defendant's employees. Id. at 5. Plaintiff asked Domenic Mellette, the Pharmacist in Charge, why she was not classified the same as Driggers and Millwood, and Mellette referred her to the Human Resources Department (“HR”).

         In the late spring or summer of 2013, Plaintiff met with Benjamin Kelly (“Kelly”), who was employed by Defendant in HR, to determine why Driggers and Smallwood were classified differently and paid more than Plaintiff. Id. at 5-6. Kelly determined from employment records that Plaintiff was not receiving the correct amount of pay for a certified technician and “was not even listed as a certified technician” even though Defendant possessed “copies of her certification” and her performance was on par with her coworkers. (ECF No. 31 at 5, 14). Kelly met with Louie Brown (“Brown”), head of the Pharmaceutical Department, who then met with Plaintiff and authorized a modest raise of .50 per hour and reclassified her as a Pharmacy Tech II. (ECF Nos. 27-2 at 6; 31 at 5). When Plaintiff asked Brown whether she would be getting back pay from her date of hire, he stated “I can't believe you asked me that.” (ECF No. 27-2 at 6).

         According to Defendant, there were only two employees officially classified as a “Certified Pharmacy Technician.” (ECF No. 27-3 at 10). Plaintiff was paid more than some Caucasian Pharmacy Techs and less than some African American Pharmacy Techs. Id. at 2-3. She received several incremental raises during her employment with Defendant, eventually reaching an hourly wage of $14.80 in 2015. (ECF No. 27-2 at 12).[2]

         On November 20, 2015, Plaintiff accepted a position as Operations Technician I at Colgate-Palmolvie Company with an initial hourly wage of $17.10. (ECF Nos. 33-1; 33-2). On November 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of race, retaliated against her, and subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her race. (ECF No. 27-3 at 5). Plaintiff gave written notice to Defendant that she was “resigning [her] position as a pharmacy technician” and that her last day of work would be on December 31, 2015. (ECF No. 27-2 at 42).

         The EEOC transferred Plaintiff's Charge of Discrimination to the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (“SCHAC”), which dismissed Plaintiff's charges and issued a notice of the right to sue. (ECF No. 27-3 at 36). On November 2, 2017, the EEOC adopted the SCHAC's findings and likewise dismissed the charges and issued a notice of the right to sue. Id. at 37.

         Plaintiff filed this action on January 22, 2018, alleging that Defendant discriminated against her by engaging in a pattern and practice of targeting Plaintiff by subjecting her to less pay and job status and a lower position classification” than “her similarly situated Caucasian colleagues, ” in violation of both 1981 and Title VII, (ECF No. 1 at 5, 7); that Defendant retaliated against her on account of her protected activity, in violation of both 1981 and Title VII, (ECF No. 1 at 6, 8); that Defendant subjected Plaintiff to a racially hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII, (ECF No. 1 at 12); that Defendant breached an employment contract with Plaintiff by subjecting her to discrimination in contravention of the policies set forth in Defendant's Employee Handbook (ECF No. 1 at 9-11); and that Defendant's alleged breach of contract was accompanied by fraudulent acts (ECF No. 1 at 11). Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's conduct caused her to leave and amounted to “constructive termination” of her employment. (ECF No. 1 at 6, 7, 9, 11).

         Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's constructive discharge claim is barred for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, (ECF No. 27-1 at 5); that each of Plaintiff's claims is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, id. at 6-8; and that, to the extent that any of her claims are not barred by the applicable limitations period, Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case as to any of the claims on this record, id. at 8-16.

         As to Plaintiff's 1981 claims, the magistrate judge determined that “any claim based on actions occurring before January 22, 2014, is barred by the four-year statute of limitations applicable to 1981 claims.” Id. at 9. The magistrate judge then found that the only remaining timely allegations with respect to Plaintiff's 1981 claim “relate to her purported constructive discharge.” Id. at 10. In so finding, the magistrate judge noted that “Plaintiff seems to concede that, with respect to her 1981 . . . claims, the allegations other than her constructive discharge are time barred.” Id. at 9. The magistrate judge then found that “Plaintiff has directed the Court to no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that ...

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