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James v. Southeastern Grocers LLC

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

October 21, 2019

Willie Frank James, Jr., Plaintiff,
Southeastern Grocers LLC, Dan Faketty, Jennifer Powers, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this employment action on April 16, 2018, alleging race discrimination at his workplace. (Dkt. No. 1.) On October 2, 2019, Defendant Southeastern Grocers, LLC (“Defendant”) filed a Motion to Dismiss “as a sanction against [Plaintiff] for his repeated failure to provide” responses to Defendant's discovery requests and for his repeated failure to comply with the Court's orders. (Dkt. No. 85 at 1.) Defendant asks that the Court dismiss this action with prejudice and impose monetary sanctions against Plaintiff “for its fees and costs incurred in deposing Plaintiff and bringing the instant motion.” (Id. at 21.) For the reasons stated below, the undersigned recommends denying the Motion to Dismiss.


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was an employee of Defendant Southeastern Grocers LLC from March 23, 2015, through his termination on May 20, 2016. (Dkt. No. 32 at 1-2.) While employed at Southeastern Grocers, Plaintiff's “responsibilities were to control shrinkage loss or theft in all stores assigned.” (Id. at 2.) On February 15, 2016, Plaintiff called Phil Harris (“Harris”), the Human Resources Director, “to report an incident that took place between me and Patrick Johnson regarding his threat to [Plaintiff's] career.” (Id.) In response, Harris arranged a meeting with Defendant Jennifer Powers (“Powers”)[1], the Director of Human Resources. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he explained to Harris and Powers “all of the circumstances of very inappropriate and derogatory behavior as well as comments about black people and the culture making for a very uncomfortable working environment.” (Id. at 2-3.) Plaintiff also explained that “Patrick Johnson had written [him] up on a few occasions as he was constantly regarding [Plaintiff's] incompetence in performing [his] duties.” (Id.)

         According to Plaintiff, Powers “denied” Plaintiff “the right . . . to file a grievance against Patrick Johnson after having reported the ongoing issues.” (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff “was told [he] should go back and talk to Patrick and see if [he] could work this out.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he “did not see where this was going to be a viable solution.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he filed the instant action because Powers “did not see fit to investigate or take heed to any of [Plaintiff's] concerns regarding Patrick Johnson's behavior and pattern of threats to [his] career.” (Id.) He further alleges that as a result of Powers's actions, Plaintiff “was made subject to several more months of constant threats and verbal racially motivated abuse that created a very hostile work environment.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that after his termination, he informed Powers that he had a “2 hour 51 minute and 10 seconds recording between Mr. Johnson and [Plaintiff]” where Johnson said in part that he had lied to the company “about his reasons for terminating” Plaintiff. (Id. at 5.) According to Plaintiff, Powers then called him in for a meeting with her and Dan Faketty, the Vice President of Protection, “to discuss the content of the recording.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he asked for a meeting with Faketty and Johnson “to address [his] previous concerns that were ignored by Harris and Powers in order to resolve this egregious act of discrimination and wrongful termination.” (Id.) Faketty told him that “would never happen.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he did not forward a copy of the full recording to the company because “there was no consideration for the type of treatment that [he] received from the upper management team, which consisted of” Harris, Powers, and Faketty. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges he later forwarded the company a four minute clip from the recording wherein Johnson discussed “his disdain for his Supervisor and BI-LO as an organization.” (Id.) In response, Johnson was terminated, and Plaintiff received an email that the problem was resolved. (Id.) Plaintiff states this was an unsatisfactory result because the company “completely ignored” his complaints about Johnson's attitude and temperament towards Plaintiff, but the company “removed” Johnson after he made comments about white men. (Id.)

         Plaintiff brings this action for “wrongful termination due to discrimination” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Dkt. No. 1 at 3, 6.) He received his notice of right to sue from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on January 16, 2018, (Dkt. No. 1-1), and he filed this action on April 16, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1).

         B. Procedural Background

         This is the second sanctions motion that Defendant has filed in this case. Defendant previously sought similar sanctions against Plaintiff in a Motion for Sanctions filed June 4, 2019. (Dkt. No. 66.) In the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) related to that Motion, the undersigned detailed at length Plaintiff's failure to properly engage in discovery with Defendant and his failure to comply with the Court's directives, including, inter alia, (1) Plaintiff's repeated failure to respond to Defendant's discovery requests resulting in the filing of numerous Motions to Compel by Defendant and several extensions of the scheduling order; (2) Plaintiff's failure to appear in Court for a status conference; and (3) Plaintiff's failure to communicate with defense counsel about the status of his discovery responses, resulting in the cancellation of his noticed deposition. (Id. at 1-4.) Based on Plaintiff's conduct, the undersigned recommended granting the Motion for Sanctions in part, in that the Court should impose a monetary sanction of $250.00, to be paid by Plaintiff to Defendant. The Court adopted the R&R and advised Plaintiff his case would be dismissed with prejudice if he did not pay the monetary sanction. (Dkt. No. 76.)

         Plaintiff ultimately paid the monetary sanction to Defendant. (Dkt. No. 79.) Based on that payment, the Court found Plaintiff had complied with the Court's Sanctions Order and issued a Second Amended Scheduling Order. (Dkt. Nos. 80; 81.) Per the Second Amended Scheduling Order, discovery was due by September 23, 2019, and dispositive motions are due by November 4, 2019. (Dkt. No. 81.) Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on October 2, 2019. (Dkt. No. 85.) Plaintiff filed a response brief on October 9, 2019, as well as a “Statement of Facts” on October 15, 2019. (Dkt. Nos. 88; 90.) Defendant filed a reply brief on October 16, 2019. (Dkt. No. 89.) The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.


         Rule 37(b)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., provides that if a party fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, the Court in which the action is pending may make such orders in regard to such failure as are just, including dismissing the action. In addition, Rule 41(b), Fed. R. Civ. P., authorizes the Court to dismiss an action for failure to prosecute or for failure to comply with court orders. “There is no doubt that Federal Courts possess the inherent authority to dismiss a case with prejudice . . .” See Link v. Wabash Railroad Co., 370 U.S. 626, reh'g. denied, 371 U.S. 873 (1962);Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44 (1991) (courts have the ...

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