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Slawson v. Palmetto Heights Management, LLC

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

October 31, 2019

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

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") of the Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. No. 58.) recommending that the Court grant in part, deny in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 42.) 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, Tiffany Slawson, 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 hired as a front desk clerk at the Airport Inn in September 2013. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 20-23.) She was promoted to the position of General Manager approximately two months afterward. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 27:15-17, 44: 6-19.) The Airport Inn is owned and operated by Defendant Palmetto Heights Management, LLC ("Palmetto Heights"), a South Carolina limited liability company owned by Defendant Kamlesh Shah ("Shah"). In addition, Mr. Shah is the sole owner of Defendant Archdale Development, LLC ("Archdale"), which owns and operates a neighboring hotel called the Clarion Inn & Suites ("Clarion").

         Plaintiff alleges that while employed at the Airport Inn, she and other female employees were regularly subjected to vulgar, unwelcome comments of a sexual nature by Mr. Shah. (Dkt. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 3-4.) Plaintiff testified that Mr. Shah told her that her breasts "were large" and that she "needed to show them off' when she was out marketing with potential clients. (Dkt. No. 46-5 at 72: 12-15.) She also testified Mr. Shah pressured her to "sell herself by wearing tight clothing and revealing her breasts. (Dkt. No. 46-5 at 73: 1-3; Dkt. No. 42-2 at 83: 1-8.) Plaintiff testified that on one occasion, Mr. Shah asked her if her nipples were pierced or if she just had big nipples. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 117: 3-11.) In addition, Plaintiff contends that Mr. Shah told her on "numerous occasions" that his two favorite things in life are "money and good pussy." (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 89.)

         Plaintiff testified Mr. Shah physically touched her on one occasion. Mr. Shah pulled her shirt and told her that she needed to expose more cleavage when interacting with clients. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 84: 13-17.) Plaintiff testified Mr. Shah stared and looked at her while adjusting his genitals on numerous occasions. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 49:19-50:18.) He also adjusted himself while stating that "it [is] large in size." (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 92:20-23.) Plaintiff testified Mr. Shah made offensive sexual remarks to other female employees in Plaintiffs presence, commented on multiple female employees' breasts and buttocks, and told one female employee that she looked like she was "for sale." (Dkt. No. 46-2 at 92: 20-22; Dkt. No. 46-23 at 99:7-100:7; Dkt. No. 46-8 at 89:4-15; Dkt. No. 46-24 at 64:4-12.) In addition, Plaintiff contends Mr. Shah told female employees that women know nothing unless a man teaches them. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 48:10-12.) Plaintiff found Mr. Shah's comments to be offensive, inappropriate, and unwelcome and she testified that she could hardly be in the same room as him. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 88: 20-89:3; Dkt. No. 46-13 at 198: 16-199:18; Dkt. No. 46-7 at 84:8-13.) Plaintiff testified that she confronted Mr. Shah and repeatedly asked him to stop making inappropriate comments and Mr. Shah responded that "he has money, he can do what he likes." (Dkt. No. 46-13 at 199:25-200:6; Dkt. No. 42-2 at 55:25-56:10.)

         Plaintiff testified that she complained about Mr. Shah's ongoing behavior to Thomas Slawson (Regional Manager) and asked that he intervene approximately twenty times. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 118:13-24.) Plaintiff claims that she became so uncomfortable that she asked Shelton Black, a maintenance employee at The Airport Inn, to stand near her at the front desk every time Mr. Shah came to the hotel. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 117: 19-118:6.) In late February 2014, Plaintiff contacted the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission ("SCHAC") hoping that someone else might encourage Mr. Shah to stop harassing the female employees. Around this same timeframe, Plaintiff claims that she convened a meeting with other female employees to discuss Mr. Shah's treatment of women in the workplace and possible recourse. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 78-79, 145: 15-22.) Around March 2, 2014, approximately two days after Plaintiff held the sexual harassment meeting, Plaintiff claims that her employment at the Airport Inn was terminated at Mr. Shah's request. (Dkt. No. 42-2 at 79: 6-11.)

         On June 2, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") (Dkt. No. 42-6.) She alleged claims of sex discrimination and retaliation. (Id.) Specifically Plaintiff alleged:

I was sexually harassed from on or about November 19, 2013 through March 2, 2014. I was subjected to unwelcome sexual comments by the Owner, Kamlesh Shah (male) and comments about other employees (female). I was also told that a woman knows nothing until a man has taught her. As the general manager, I asked Mr. Shah not to talk to the female employees or me in that manner. I reported the sexual harassment to the Regional Manager, Thomas Slawson. Mr. Slawson addressed the issues with Mr. Shah but he ignored the concerns and the comments continued.
I was discharged on or about March 2, 2014 [sic]. The reason given was I did not come in on my schedule [sic] day off. I contend I was terminated in retaliation for reporting the sexual harassment.
I therefore believe I was discriminated against because of my sex (female/sexual harassment) and in retaliation for my opposition to employment practices declared unlawful by the South Carolina Human Affairs Law, as amended, and Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended. (Id.)

         The EEOC determined the evidence presented was insufficient to establish Plaintiff was discharged as a retaliatory act in violation of Title VII. (Dkt. No. 46-18 at 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. (Id.) 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. 42.) Plaintiff filed a motion in opposition on April 24, 2019 (Dkt. No. 46) and Defendants filed their reply on May 13, 2019. (Dkt. No. 51.) The Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending the Court dismiss Plaintiffs claims against the individual Defendant, Mr. Shah, but allow Plaintiffs retaliation and sexual harassment claims to go forward. (Dkt. No. 58.) Defendants filed timely objections to the R & R on October 15, 2019. (Dkt. No. 59.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A. ...


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