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Bigleman v. Kennam Inc.

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

September 30, 2019

Greg Bigleman, Plaintiff,
v.
Kennametal Inc., Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Greg Bigleman filed this action against his former employer, Defendant Kennametal Inc., alleging that he was subjected to retaliation for engaging in protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, South Carolina Human Affairs Law (“SCHAL”), SC Code Ann. §§ 1-13-10 to -110 (2013), and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (“§ 1981”), 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (ECF No. 8 at 5 ¶ 26-8 ¶ 45.) Plaintiff also alleges a state law claim for breach of contract. (ECF No. 8 at 4 ¶¶ 18-25.)

         This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 33.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) D.S.C., the matter was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge for pretrial handling. On April 12, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court grants Defendant's Motion in its entirety. (ECF No. 46 at 20.) Plaintiff filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, which are presently before the court. (ECF No. 49.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to all Plaintiff's claims.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION

         The facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (See ECF No. 46 at 2-9.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein additional facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff that are pertinent to the analysis of his claims.

         Defendant “is a global manufacturer of metal removal cutting tools.” (ECF No. 33-2 at 18:3-4.) Plaintiff started his employment with Defendant on April 1, 2004, as a production tool operation supervisor at the Akebono site in West Columbia, South Carolina. (ECF No. 38-2 at 9/35:19-21, 36:17-37:11.[1]) In July 2012, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of global operations manager. (Id. at 10/40:7-18.) In this position, Plaintiff had “complete PNL[2]responsibility for all cost per part/tool management [for 12 to 14] sites globally” (Id. at 11/41:17- 42:8.) Therefore, a considerable part of Plaintiff's job was traveling to each of these sites to ensure that “customers were happy” and Defendant's employees “were doing what they were supposed to be doing.” (Id. at 42:20-24; see also 12/45:19-46:16.)

         In 2015, Plaintiff began to report to Mike Ramsey, the vice president of the machine tool industry (“MTI”) group. (Id. at 11/44:19-12/45:14.)

         In April of 2016 during a conversation in Latrobe, Pennsylvania with Jason Taft[3] and Dana Jeffries, [4] Plaintiff heard Taft's concern that Ramsey's failure to select Richard Bartel to attend the international machine tool show (“IMTS”) was racially discriminatory.[5] (ECF No. 38-2 at 15/58:7-60:3.) Specifically, Ramsey had selected his recently hired son-in-law instead of Bartel. (Id. at 16/62:2-22.) Plaintiff told Taft that his concerns would be investigated by Plaintiff. (Id. at 47/1-8.) In approximately May of 2016, Plaintiff took Taft's concerns to Karen George in human resources. (Id. at 16/64:9-17/67:2.) George said she would keep things confidential and quietly investigate so as to avoid any “repercussions” with Ramsey. (Id. at 17/66:1-10; see also 49/193:16-194:14.)

         On June 14, 2016, Plaintiff met with Ramsey, Kelly Lynch, and Renee Mayger in Latrobe regarding expense reports that he had submitted for the period of June to November 2015. (Id. at 28/110:21-111:20.) The general result of this audit meeting was that there was error in some of Plaintiff's expense reports due to conversion rates used for foreign transactions. (Id. at 111:9- 112:24.) Ramsey proposed a solution that his assistant would review Plaintiff's expense reports going forward and Plaintiff presumed the issue had been addressed. (Id. at 28/112:14-29/114:11.) However, Lynch, the director of internal audit, “decided that at that point we would expand the scope of the review to understand if these issues were in other periods, if there was a broader concern.” (ECF No. 38-7 at 22/83:20-23.)

         Sometime between July 11, 2016 and July 16, 2016, Plaintiff was at a joint sales meeting of the MTI group in Concord, North Carolina and Ramsey pointed at Plaintiff “and told him in front of the group of employees you need to tell Jason Taft that I will fire anyone who questions my selection of who goes to IMTS because it's my decision.” (Id. at 20/79:16-80:21.)

         On July 22, 2016, Candace Graytok called Plaintiff to communicate that he was suspended. (Id. at 29/115:19-116:25.) On July 26, 2016, Graytok and Ramsey called Plaintiff to tell him that he was being terminated for an unspecified cause. (Id. at 30/117:3-25.) A disciplinary review committee-comprised of Judith Bacchus, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer; Michelle Keating, General Counsel, and Jan Kees van Gaalen, Chief Financial Officer-had made the decision to terminate Plaintiff after receiving internal audit's summary of its audit of Plaintiff's expense reports. (ECF No. 38-1 at 3/8:10-16, 5/15:15-6/20:1.) Ramsey was not involved in the disciplinary review committee's decision-making meeting. (Id. at 6/20:2-3.) Defendant officially terminated Plaintiff's employment on July 27, 2016. (ECF No. 38-2 at 12/48:5-8.)

         After his termination, Plaintiff alleges that he filed a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on April 27, 2017. (ECF Nos. 8 at 5 ¶ 27, 38-2 at 45/177:15-23.) In the Charge, Plaintiff alleged that he suffered retaliation “involving an overtly hostile and racially discriminatory environment of which Bigleman had complained.” (ECF No. 8 at 5 ¶ 27.) Plaintiff further contends that on October 3, 2017, he received a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC in connection with his Charge. (ECF No. 8 at 5 ¶ 27 (referencing ECF No. 33-5 at 89).)

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an action on December 27, 2017, in the Court of Common Pleas for Lexington County (South Carolina) alleging claims for breach of employment contract, violation of Title VII, race discrimination in violation of § 1981, retaliation, and violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act (“SCPWA”), SC Code Ann. §§ 41-10-10 to -110 (Supp. 2011). (ECF No. 1-1 at 5 ¶ 16-10 ¶ 47.) After removing the matter to this court on February 1, 2018 (ECF No. 1), Defendant answered the Complaint on February 1, 2018, denying its allegations. (ECF No. 5.) On February 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8) asserting claims against Defendant for Title VII retaliation, SCHAL retaliation, § 1981 retaliation, and breach of an employment contract. (ECF No. 8 at 4 ¶ 18-8 ¶ 45.) Defendant answered the Amended Complaint on February 23, 2018, denying its allegations. (ECF No. 8.)

         On January 11, 2019, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 33.) Plaintiff filed opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on January 25, 2019, to which Defendant filed a Reply in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on February 8, 2019. (ECF Nos. 38, 45.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 D.S.C., the Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation on April 12, 2019, recommending that “the district judge grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.” (ECF No. 46 at 19.) On April 26, 2019, Plaintiff filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 49.) On May 9, 2019, Defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff's Objections to the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 50).

         The court considers the merits of Plaintiff's Objections to the Report and Recommendation below.

         II. JURISDICTION

         This court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims via 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as they arise under laws of the United States, and also via 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), which empowers district courts to hear claims “brought under” Title VII. The court also has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to § 1331 based on Plaintiff's retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which guarantees the rights of a protected class of individuals “to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, . . . .” Id. The court may properly hear Plaintiff's state law claims for SCHAL retaliation and breach of employment contract based on supplemental jurisdiction since these claims “are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). See also United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966) (finding supplemental jurisdiction allows parties to append state law claims over which federal courts would otherwise lack jurisdiction to federal claims, so long as “[t]he state and federal claims . . . derive from a common nucleus of operative fact”); De La Rosa v. Reliable, Inc., 113 F.Supp.3d 1135, 1152 (D.N.M. 2015) (“The court can then exercise supplemental jurisdiction over other claims and parties that ‘form part of the same case or controversy under Article III . . . .'” (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1367, United Mine Workers, 383 U.S. at 725)).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to - including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made - for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         B. Summary ...


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