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Sambrano v. Palmetto Heights Management, LLC

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

October 22, 2019

Penny Sambrano, Plaintiff,
Palmetto Heights Management, LLC, d/b/a Airport Inn; Archdale Development, LLC; and Kamlesh Shah, individually, Defendants.


          Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge.

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") of the Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. No. 52.) recommending that the Court grant in part, deny in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 36.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the R & R and grants in part, denies in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Penny Sambrano, brought the current action against Defendants Palmetto Heights Management, LLC d/b/a Airport Inn, Archdale Development, LLC, and Kamlesh Shah, as an individual, alleging claims for sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff was employed as a sales representative clerk at the Clarion Inn & Suites ("Clarion") in North Charleston. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 50:18-19.) The Clarion is owned and operated by Archdale Development, LLC ("Archdale"), a South Carolina limited liability company owned by Defendant Kamlesh Shah ("Shah"). Shah is the sole owner and member of Defendant Palmetto Heights, LLC ("Palmetto Heights"), which owns and operates a neighboring hotel called the Airport Inn.

         While employed at the Clarion, Plaintiff alleges she was subjected to ongoing sexual harassment. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 6.) In her deposition, Plaintiff testified that Shah pressured her to wear short skirts and low-cut shirts to expose her breasts. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 80:14-15, 81:2-4, 82:19-83:2.) She testified Shah made frequent comments regarding her breasts. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 87:23-88:7.) She testified that Shah made a comment to her about "wet pussy" and "getting head" (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 102:25-103:8) and told Plaintiff that his two favorite things in life are "money and good pussy". (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 89:13-19.) Shah also commented that he liked "big asses" and once grabbed his genitals in front of Plaintiff and stated "it's large." (Dkt. No. 36-2 94:1-9, 109:11-22, 110:17-20.) Plaintiff testified that Shah once commented that a woman is nothing without a man behind her. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 89:13-19, 91:21-92:2.) Plaintiff found Shah's conduct to be unwelcome and offensive and came to expect his "unethical" behavior on a daily basis. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 84:4-6, 22-85:2, 111:2-16.) Plaintiff did not formally report Shah's conduct because she feared Shah would fire her. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 87: 12-13.) Plaintiff also testifies the Regional Manager, Tom Slawson ("Mr. Slawson"), was generally aware of Shah's inappropriate conduct. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 119:25-120: 10, 145:23-146:4, 146:21-147:8.)

         Plaintiff was terminated from the Clarion in April 2014. After she was terminated, she met with Tiffany Slawson ("Ms. Slawson") and now other former Clarion/Airport Inn employees to discuss their personal experiences with Shah's sexual harassment and avenues for recourse for his behavior. (Dkt. No. 36-2 at 113: 3-5, 115 1-23, 117: 1-19, 147:19-24.) Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission ("SCHAC") around July 2, 2014 alleging sex discrimination. (Dkt. No. 40-4.) The EEOC determined there was reasonable cause to conclude that Plaintiff was discriminated against because of sex (female/sexual harassment), in violation of Title VII. (Dkt. No. 40-8.)

         Plaintiff filed a lawsuit on December 27, 2017 (Dkt. No. 1-1) and Defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina on January 25, 2018.[1] (Dkt. No. 1) Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss all of Plaintiff s claims. (Dkt. No. 36.) Plaintiff filed a motion in opposition on April 24, 2019 (Dkt. No. 40) and Defendants filed their reply on May 13, 2019. (Dkt. No. 45.) The Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending the Court dismiss Plaintiffs retaliation claim and claims against the individual Defendant, Mr. Shah, but allow Plaintiffs sexual harassment claim to go forward. (Dkt. No. 52.) Defendants filed timely objections to the R & R on October 15, 2019. (Dkt. No. 53.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Summary Judgment

         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of identifying the portions of the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, any admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The Court will construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. US. v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). The existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). However, an issue of material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-movant. Id. at 257.

         "When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "In the language of the Rule, the nonmoving party must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 587. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Id. quoting First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)).

         B. Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with this Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 - 71 (1976). This Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which specific objection is made. Additionally, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In the absence of any specific objections, "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." See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation omitted). Defendants timely filed objections and the R & R is reviewed de novo.

         III. ...

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