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Taylor v. Fluor Corp.

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

October 24, 2019

Tara Taylor, Plaintiff,
v.
Fluor Corporation and Fluor Government Group International, Inc., 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 Kevin F. McDonald on July 31, 2019 (“Report”). (ECF No. 75, ECF No. 24 Taylor II.) 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 McDonald for pretrial handling. In his Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that Defendants Fluor Corporation and Fluor Government Group International, Inc.'s (“Defendants” or “Fluor”) motion to consolidate the instant case (“Taylor I”) with Tara Taylor v. Fluor Corporation and Fluor Government Group International, Inc., No. 6:19-cv-1313-BHH-KFM (“Taylor II”) should be denied. (See ECF No. 75 at 7.) 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 July 31, 2019, recommending that Defendants' motion to consolidate cases (ECF No. 69)[2] be denied. (ECF No. 75 at 7.) On August 14, 2019, Defendants filed objections challenging the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that consolidation is not warranted. (ECF No. 80.) Plaintiff filed a reply to Defendants' objections on August 22, 2019, and a supplement to that reply on October 20, 2019. (ECF Nos. 82 & 84.) 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 Magistrate Judge properly noted that in an employment discrimination case, common questions of law or fact exist for purposes of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a) when the “claims, brought against the same defendant, rely[] on the same witnesses, alleg[e] the same misconduct, and [were] answered with the same defenses.” Harris v. L & L Wings, Inc., 132 F.3d 978, 981 n.2 (4th Cir. 1997); (see ECF No. 75 at 4). Moreover, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Defendants failed to meet their burden of showing that consolidation is preferable to separate trials because there has been no showing that the cases alleged the same misconduct, rely on the same witnesses, or that Defendants will rely on the same defenses. (ECF No. 75 at 6.) Additionally, the Magistrate Judge noted the different procedural postures in Taylor I-which was pending a summary judgment ruling when the instant Report was issued and is now ready for trial (see ECF No. 83 (granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment))- and Taylor II-in which a scheduling order had only recently been issued when the instant Report was issued. (See ECF No. 75 at 7.) To consolidate the cases, the Magistrate Judge reasoned, would unnecessarily delay the resolution of Taylor I. (Id.)

         Defendants first object by arguing that there is undisputed evidence that the two lawsuits involve the same misconduct, same witnesses, and same defenses. (See ECF No. 80 at 3-5.) Defendants assert that, in order to establish her protected activity in Taylor II, Plaintiff will necessarily have to call the same witnesses required to prove her claims in Taylor I, a No. of which currently live and work in Afghanistan, in other foreign countries, or out of state. (Id. at 4.) Defendants further argue that the distinction between the employment decision at issue in Taylor I-separation from employment-and the decision at issue in Taylor II-failure to hire-is one without a difference because Plaintiff claims that the decisions in both cases were rooted in her participation in two internal investigations and in the subsequent filing of a hotline complaint and EEOC charge. (Id. at 5.)

         The Court disagrees with these assertions and finds Defendants arguments insufficient to displace the sound reasoning of the Magistrate Judge. While it is true that some of Plaintiff's uncontested protected activity in Taylor I sets the factual background for the alleged retaliation in Taylor II, the core allegations of each case address completely separate and independent misconduct. In summary: (a) Taylor I alleges that Plaintiff's supervisor, Ron Riley (“Riley”), retaliated by involuntarily separating Plaintiff from her position in Afghanistan in September 2014; (b) Taylor II alleges that Fluor Corp and various subsidiaries-including eleven or more decision-makers uninvolved in Taylor I- retaliated against Plaintiff in subsequent years by not placing her into various positions either not advertised, for which she applied, or for which she allegedly should have been transferred. As Plaintiff aptly notes in her reply to Defendants' objections: (1) the retaliation at issue in the two cases occurred years apart; (2) Fluor has provided two lists of mutually exclusive decision-makers pertaining to the employment decisions at issue; and (3) the defenses in a separation case could never be the same as in a failure-to-hire case where the failure-to-hire claims are based on positions that did not exist at the time of the separation. (See ECF No. 82 at 5.) Suffice it to say, the Court remains entirely unconvinced that the lawsuits involve the same misconduct, same witnesses, and same defenses, and Defendants have not carried their burden to justify Rule 42(a) consolidation as annunciated in Harris. Accordingly, the objection is overruled.

         Defendants next object by arguing that trial in Taylor I will not be unreasonably delayed by Taylor II if the cases are consolidated. (ECF No. 80 at 5-7.) Defendants state that the parties intend to include an expert discovery deadline in a forthcoming new scheduling order for Taylor I, and that the addition of this damages discovery in Taylor I will likely finish around the same time as the current discovery deadline in Taylor II. (Id. at 5-6.) Thus, Defendants aver, the cases are not really on separate procedural tracks at all. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff counters that the only discovery matters the parties have agreed to defer in Taylor I are the economic expert depositions, and a related updating of the damages figures in the expert reports given the passage of time, which can be done in one day. (ECF No. 82 at 8.) Moreover, Plaintiff contends that it is foreseeable based on Fluor's discovery responses that discovery in Taylor II, which has hardly begun, will be more extensive and in-depth than in Taylor I, in part because it involves many more decision-makers. (Id.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that there is no justifiable reason why further adjudication of the claims in Taylor I should be forestalled pending a summary judgment ruling in Taylor II, which is likely more than one and a half years out (June 2021) if the timeline of Taylor I is used as a guide. (Id.)

         The Court finds that the trial in Taylor I will be unreasonably delayed by consolidation. The procedural postures of the two cases are not close. Taylor I is essentially ready for trial. Discovery in Taylor II is just beginning, and that case will no doubt involve significant summary judgment briefing, which will require substantial efforts from the parties and the Court to bring to resolution. None of the Defendants' arguments regarding this issue are effective to displace the sound reasoning of the Magistrate Judge, and the objection is overruled.

         Defendants next object by arguing that the failure to consolidate the cases will create a risk of inconsistent outcomes. (ECF No. 80 at 7-8.) Specifically, Defendants assert that there is “potential for inconsistent outcomes on the determinative issue of retaliation, [as well as] countless other inconsistencies with respect to evidentiary rulings that could . . . lead to unnecessary appellate issues.” (Id. at 8.)

         This argument requires little discussion. The hypothetical posed by Fluor-that a jury in Taylor I could find that Fluor did not retaliate against Plaintiff when it eliminated her position in Afghanistan, while a second jury in Taylor II could find that Fluor did retaliate against Plaintiff by subsequently not hiring her for open positions (see Id. at 7)-is inapposite. Whether the Taylor I jury finds that Riley retaliated in 2014 is completely unrelated to how and why eleven or more different decision-makers elected not to hire or transfer Plaintiff in subsequent years. With risk of being redundant, the Court would note once again that the fact that Plaintiff engaged in protected ...


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