United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge
Mary Gordon Baker's report and recommendation
(“R&R”) that the court grant defendant
Charleston County School District's (“CCSD”)
motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 21. For the reasons set
forth below, the court adopts the R&R and grants
R&R ably recites the salient facts of this case, and it
is unnecessary to review the details of the complaint,
filings, depositions, and exhibits that constitute the
factual record. The court notes the following relevant facts.
Plaintiff Amy Neloms (“Neloms”) began working for
CCSD as a guidance counselor in 2002. In August 2013, Neloms
was promoted to Director of Guidance and Counseling Services
K-12 for the entire school district. As Director of Guidance,
she immediately became responsible for hiring school
counselors, leading student programs, and enhancing the
guidance program. She was further tasked with numerous
responsibilities including managing the multimillion-dollar
federal “Gear Up” grant, undertaking sole
responsibility for managing the District's Crisis
Intervention Plan and Team, answering complaints from the
District's Bully Prevention Hotline, managing and
compiling content for the District's “Program of
Studies” database, activating all of CCSD's high
school courses in a program called “Power
School”, administering a scholarship program for the
District, serving as a test coordinator for the Preliminary
Scholastic Aptitude Test, coordinating the District's
child sexual assault training, overseeing bus driver training
sessions on bullying prevention, managing any incoming
petitions for high school diplomas, creating a performance
evaluation system for school counselors, and overseeing
District-wide implementation of a software system called
“Naviance.” ECF No. 21 at 2-3. Neloms claims she
was not given sufficient training to perform these duties and
asked for help throughout the fall of 2015, especially with
regard to the administration and audit of the Gear Up grant.
In response to this, CCSD hired Chameeka Smith
(“Smith”) in September 2015 to aid in the
internal audit of the grant.
September 30, 2015, the Post & Courier published an
article revealing that CCSD faced an $18 million shortfall.
Then, on November 25, 2015, the Post & Courier published
a follow-up article identifying specific instances of
overspending, including $841, 000 in the Guidance Department.
The article did not name Neloms as being involved in the
shortcoming, but Neloms felt that it implicated her as the
current Director of Guidance, despite the fact that Neloms
was not the Director of Guidance at the time of the
overspending. As a result, she asked the District
Superintendent and Legal Department to contact the Post &
Courier to clarify the article. They declined to do so.
resigned as project manager of the Gear Up grant in July
2016. The effect of Smith's resignation on Neloms's
workload and responsibilities caused Neloms a great deal of
stress such that she broke down in tears in a meeting with
her supervisor, Michelle English-Watson
(“English-Watson”), and the Gear Up grant
auditors. On August 5, 2016, English-Watson hired Cindy
Smalls (“Smalls”) as a temporary employee to
assist in the organization of the Gear Up audit documents;
her role ended in January 2017. In September 2016, CCSD hired
Donna Newton (“Newton”) as Neloms's
secretary. Then in October 2016, Dennis Muhammed
(“Muhammed”) was hired to permanently replace
Smith as the project manager for the Gear Up grant.
December 2016 and January 2017, Neloms experienced
significant stress with regard to her job such that on
February 16, 2017, Neloms's physician submitted forms
indicating that Neloms was suffering from anxiety, sadness,
and decreased motivation and needed to take two weeks of
leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”). In response, English-Watson sent Neloms
an email affirming the FMLA leave but requesting that Neloms
put together a list of current projects for the purpose of
making sure the office did not fall behind on its
assignments. Neloms replied, providing the list. Originally,
Neloms's fulltime FMLA leave was scheduled until February
27, 2017, but it was later extended to last until March 28,
2017. When her FMLA leave expired, Neloms returned to work
with a modified, intermittent leave schedule such that she
would work four hours per day, as opposed to eight hours per
time, the internal audit of the Gear Up grant was complete
and the code-of-conduct work was reassigned to the Curriculum
Instructions Department. However, Neloms claims that she had
to work more than four hours a day because she was still
expected to complete the same amount of work that she
previously had. In other words, while her number of hours
decreased, her workload did not. Though Neloms claims she had
to sometimes work at home-exceeding her four-hour limit-to
keep up with certain responsibilities, she also acknowledges
that no one directed her to do this. Neloms remained
overwhelmed by her number of responsibilities and asked
English-Watson to reassign them to other departments or hire
her more staff. She also asked that some of her core job
duties be temporarily reassigned to accommodate the four-hour
work day. English-Watson explained to Neloms that if
something is in Neloms's job description, then Nelom had
to do it. Because their dialogue eventually broke down, both
parties agreed that Neloms should contact Employee Relations.
From April 18, 2017 onwards, Neloms was in conversation with
Employee Relations to clarify her job responsibilities.
Neloms met with members of the Employee Relations department
on two separate occasions: on or around April 26, 2017 and on
May 8, 2017. Then on May 16, 2017, Neloms requested and was
approved for full time FMLA leave, and on June 6, 2017,
Neloms submitted a resignation letter while still on FMLA
leave. Her resignation was accepted shortly thereafter and
she was allowed to remain on FMLA leave until June 30, 2017.
filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas for the Ninth
Judicial Circuit in the county of Charleston, South Carolina
on December 8, 2017. She brought causes of action for: (1)
denial of reasonable accommodations pursuant to Section 504
of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 705; (2)
interference/retaliation in violation of the FMLA; and (3)
defamation by innuendo. CCSD removed the complaint to federal
court on February 5, 2018 and filed a motion for summary
judgment on January 4, 2019, ECF No. 18. Neloms responded to
the motion on January 17, 2019, ECF No. 19, and CCSD replied
on January 22, 2019, ECF No. 20. On June 19, 2019, Magistrate
Judge Baker issued an R&R recommending that CCSD's
motion be granted. ECF No. 21. Neloms filed objections to the
R&R on July 3, 2019, ECF No. 22, and CCSD replied on July
8, 2019, ECF No. 23.
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.
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).
“Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
requires that the district court enter judgment against a
party who, ‘after adequate time for discovery . . .
fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence
of an element essential to that party's case, and on
which that party will bear the burden of proof at
trial.'” Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co.,
105 F.3d 188, 190 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Any reasonable
inferences are to be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.
See Webster v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 685 F.3d
411, 421 (4th Cir. 2012). However, to defeat summary
judgment, the nonmoving party must identify an error of law
or a genuine issue of disputed material fact. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); see also Bouchat v. Balt.
Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir.
the court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of
the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party must rely on more
than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building
of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a
scintilla of evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at
252; Stone, 105 F.3d at 191. Rather, “a party
opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment . .
. must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat, 346
F.3d at 522 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (2002) (amended
2010)). If the adverse party fails to provide evidence
establishing that the factfinder could reasonably decide in
his favor, ...