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Barnett v. Palmetto Heights Management LLC

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

October 25, 2019

Shyan Barnett, 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. 51.) 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, Shyan Barnett, 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. On December 27, 2013, Plaintiff was hired as a front desk clerk at the Airport Inn. (Dkt. No. 40 at 3.) (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 40:21-25.) The Airport Inn is owned and operated by Palmetto Heights Management, LLC ("Palmetto Heights"), a South Carolina limited liability company owned by Defendant Kamlesh Shah ("Shah"). Mr. Shah is the sole member of Palmetto Heights. In addition, Mr. Shah is the sole owner and member of Defendant Archdale Development, LLC ("Archdale"), which owns and operates a neighboring hotel called the Clarion Inn & Suites ("Clarion").

         While employed at the Airport Inn, Plaintiff alleges she was subjected to ongoing sexual harassment. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 6.) In her deposition, Plaintiff testified that Mr. Shah told her to sell herself and flirt with customers, including leaning over the counter in order to sell more rooms. (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 39: 6-9, 141: 4-10.) She testified that Mr. Shah made comments about her body indicating that her breasts and buttocks were too large. (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 45:21-46:4, 140:24-141:1.) Plaintiff testified that Mr. Shah commented he liked "good sex and money" (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 49: 18-23, 141:19-6) and commented on the female anatomy that a woman's private parts "had to be wet." (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 72: 3-12.) In addition, Plaintiff testified Mr. Shah commented that "women are beneath men, women don't know anything unless a man taught her." (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 66: 11-24.) She indicated Mr. Shah said this "more times that [she] could count." (Id.) She testified Mr. Shah also stated on numerous occasions that "women speak when spoken to." (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 140:18-20.) Plaintiff testified that Mr. Shah physically touched her on one occasion when he grazed his backside against Plaintiffs backside. (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 55:9-57:16, 75:1- 76:12.) Plaintiff testified that Mr. Shah's comments made her feel uncomfortable, threatened, and intimidated, and despite repeatedly asking him to stop, Mr. Shah continued to make inappropriate comments to Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 143: 14-144:7.) Plaintiff reported Mr. Shah's behavior to Vivian Faulk, Tiffany Slawson (General Manager), and Thomas Slawson (Regional Manager). (Dkt. No. 36-3 at 51:13-52:12, 54:16-55:5, 79:19-80:6, 144: 8-11.)

         In late February or early March 2014, Plaintiff claims that she, Ms. Slawson, and now other former employees met to discuss their personal experiences with Shah's sexual harassment and avenues for recourse for his behavior. (Dkt. No. 40 at 4-5; Dkt. No. 40-1 at 86:14-87:18; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 6.) Subsequently, Plaintiff was terminated on or around March 8, 2014 for allegedly mishandling guestrooms and stealing money from the Airport Inn. (Dkt. No. 40-2 at 53:20-54:10; Dkt. No. 40-1 at 105:2-106:25; Dkt. No. 40-8.) Plaintiff disputes this and claims she was terminated in retaliation for participating in the meeting regarding Mr. Shah's inappropriate behavior toward female employees. (Dkt. No. 40 at 4-5; Dkt. No. 40-1 at 102:17-103:7; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 6; Dkt. No. 40-2 at 52:1-4.)

         Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission ("SCHAC") alleging sex and age discrimination. (Dkt. No. 40-3.) 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. 40-7.) 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. 44.) 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. 51.) Defendants filed timely objections to the R & R on October 15, 2019. (Dkt. No. 52.)

         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, Ml 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., Ml 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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