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Waiters v. Science Applications International Corp.

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

September 18, 2019

Clifton J. Waiters, Plaintiff,
v.
Science Applications International Corporation, doing business as SAIC, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation entered by United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant on May 10, 2019 (“Report”). (ECF No. 63.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina, this case was referred to Magistrate Judge Marchant for pretrial handling. In his Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that Defendant Science Applications International Corporation’s, doing business as SAIC, (“Defendant” or “SAIC”) motion to dismiss be granted in part and denied in part. (See ECF No. 63 at 23–24.) The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law, and the Court incorporates them here without recitation.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         The Magistrate Judge entered his Report on May 10, 2019, recommending: (1) that Defendants motion to dismiss be granted with respect to Plaintiff’s Title VII failure to promote claim, national origin retaliation claim, any state law claims, any claim for constructive discharge, and Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim; and (2) the motion to dismiss be denied with respect to Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1981 failure to promote claim, and Plaintiff’s Title VII and § 1981 retaliation claim. (Id.) On May 31, 2019, Defendant filed objections challenging those portions of the Report that recommend denial of SAIC’s motion and asserting that the Court should grant SAIC’s motion in its entirety. (ECF No. 68.) On June 19, 2019, Plaintiff Clifton J. Waiters (“Plaintiff”) filed a reply to Defendants’ objections, requesting that the Court adopt the Report and allow the case to proceed to the discovery phase. (ECF No. 73.) The matter is ripe for consideration and the Court now makes the following ruling.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the Report of the Magistrate Judge to which a specific objection is made. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). In the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must “only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         DISCUSSION

         The Court will confine its analysis to those portions of the Report to which Defendant raises a specific objection. Other than the Magistrate Judge’s findings and recommendations with respect to Plaintiff’s § 1981 failure to promote claim and Title VII and § 1981 retaliation claim, the parties agree that the Court should adopt the Report. (See ECF Nos. 68 at 1; 73 at 1.) Accordingly, the Court hereby adopts all findings and recommendations of the Magistrate Judge to which there has been no objection.

         A. Plaintiff’s § 1981 Failure to Promote Claim

         The Magistrate Judge found that for purposes of a motion to dismiss Plaintiff met the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), through allegations sufficient to reasonably infer a prima facie case of race discrimination in the form of a failure to promote by showing: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the job at issue; (3) he was subjected to an adverse employment action; and (4) the position was filled by someone who is not a member of his protected class, or there is some other evidence sufficient to give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. (ECF No. 63 at 9–10.) Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Defendant is not entitled to dismissal of Plaintiff’s § 1981 racial discrimination claim at this stage. (Id. at 11.)

         Defendant argues that the Court should not adopt the recommendation to deny the motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s § 1981 racial discrimination claim for two reasons: (1) Plaintiff fails to state facts to plausibly show he suffered an adverse employment action since he does not allege that he would have had any changes to the terms, conditions, or benefits of his employment if he were Theater Lead; and (2) Plaintiff does not allege sufficient facts demonstrating SAIC’s assignment of the Theater Lead position to Wes Hahn (“Hahn”) was because of Plaintiff’s race. (See ECF No. 68 at 2.)

         With respect to the first argument, Defendant contends that the amended complaint fails to identify what the job responsibilities of the Theater Lead position were, or how that position compared to Plaintiff’s undescribed position in terms of responsibility, compensation, benefits, conditions, and terms of employment. (See ECF No. 68 at 5, 7.) This argument is without merit and the cases cited by Defendant in support of it (see Id . at 8–13) are unavailing. The clear import of Plaintiff’s allegations in the amended complaint is that Defendant favored a white employee over him because of his race in appointing the white employee to a position that would have been a promotion for Plaintiff. The Court finds that this is sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief from race discrimination pursuant to § 1981. The Magistrate Judge was correct to conclude that the issue of whether or not the Theater Lead position would have been a promotion for Plaintiff is a fact to be determined based on the evidence. (See ECF No. 63 at 10–11.) This analysis evinces no error and the objection is overruled.

         With respect to the second argument, Defendant contends that Plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient to state a claim because he only asserts that a Caucasian male received the Theater Lead position, not that Plaintiff did not receive that position because of his race. (See ECF No. 68 at 7–8.) This argument, like the first, lacks merit and the cases Defendant cites in support of it (see Id . at 13–16) do not bear Defendant’s preferred conclusion on the viability of Plaintiff’s claim. Defendant oversimplifies the allegations in the amended complaint, stating, “By alleging nothing more than that Plaintiff is a member of a protected class, and Hahn, who received the Theater Lead position, is not, Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint suffers from the same vagaries that resulted in dismissal of the Carroll [v. United Parcel Serv. Inc., C/A No. 1:17-cv-03108-DCC, 2018 WL 4111017 (D.S.C.)] plaintiff’s Section 1981 claim.” (Id. at 14.) However, Plaintiff’s allegations are not as devoid of detail as Defendant would suggest. Plaintiff’s amended complaint asserts that Hahn had not completed the training that Plaintiff was informed was a prerequisite for eligibility for the position (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13–18, ECF No. 49), a fact which could tend to support the inference that the reason Plaintiff was passed over was because of his race. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that three of his friends who were also African American applied for the position and were likewise passed over. (Id. ¶ 18.) Finally, Plaintiff draws the inference that race was a motivating factor behind the election of a Theater Lead in the context of his other allegations, which include a supervisor treating Plaintiff and his African American colleagues differently than Caucasian employees when it came to transportation between the various military bases where they worked. (Id. ¶ 22.) The Court finds that these allegations are sufficient to plausibly state a prima facie case that Plaintiff’s race was part of Defendant’s motive for not promoting Plaintiff. The Magistrate Judge’s analysis evinces no error and the objection is overruled.

         B. Plaintiff’s Title VII and § 1981 ...


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