United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge
Jacquelyn D. Austin's report and recommendation
(“R&R”) that the court deny defendant Boone
Hall Farms, Inc.'s (“Boone Hall”) motion for
partial summary judgment with respect to plaintiff Kristen
Dixon's (“Dixon”) third cause of action for
retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
(“Title VII”), ECF No. 37. For the reasons
discussed below, the court adopts the R&R and denies
Boone Hall's motion for summary judgment.
R&R ably recites the facts, and Boone Hall did not object
to the R&R's recitation thereof. Therefore, the court
will only briefly summarize material facts as they appear in
the R&R for the purpose of aiding an understanding of its
in March of 2016, Dixon worked as a server, cashier, and
hostess at Boone Hall Farms Café (the
“Café”). During her time there, Dixon
claims to have been sexually assaulted on four different
occasions by her co-worker Ricky Smalls
(“Smalls”). Dixon alleges instances of blatant
physical sexual abuse as well as threats of continued abuse.
Dixon further alleges that although she submitted numerous
complaints to her manager, Tim Junkins
(“Junkins”), she received only threats to keep
quiet and disciplinary action in return. Shortly after the
third alleged incident of sexual assault, Dixon claims she
sought out Boone Hall's CEO Laura Bowers
(“Bowers”) who allegedly brushed off Dixon's
concerns, stating that she did not have time for complaints
about the working environment at the Café.
thereafter, on February 14, 2017, Dixon alleges that Smalls
followed her into the Café bathroom, locked the door,
and sexually assaulted her by grabbing her breasts and
buttocks. Once again, Dixon claims, when she sought out
Junkins and Bowers to report the incident the following day,
she was met with disinterest by the former and threats of
termination by the latter. Two days after the alleged
February 14 assault, Dixon received two disciplinary
“write-ups” and a weekend-long suspension. When
she returned to work the following Monday, Dixon claims, her
name was removed from the work schedule, and she was asked to
return home until someone from the Café contacted her.
February 23, Dixon met with Bowers, Human Resources Manager
Abigail Watson (“Watson”), and Boone Hall owner
William McRae (“McRae”). During the meeting,
Dixon inquired into her employment status several times and
was told that her status would not be determined until after
an investigation into her accusations was completed. On March
1, Dixon again met with Bowers, Watson, and McRae, where she
was told that her accusations had been thoroughly
investigated and determined to be unfounded. Accordingly,
Dixon was told, Smalls would not face termination or any
other disciplinary action. Although it was made clear to
Dixon during the March 1 meeting that she had not been fired
and would be integrated back into the schedule, Dixon never
returned to work at the Café, nor did she further
contact her employer regarding work.
after Dixon ceased work at the Café, she filed an
administrative charge with the Equal Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”), which issued a right to sue letter on
April 25, 2018. Dixon brought the instant action in the
Charleston County Court of Common Pleas on June 26, 2018,
asserting three causes of action under Title VII: two for
unlawful discrimination and one for
retaliation. ECF No. 1-1. Boone Hall removed the case
to the district court on August 1, 2018, where it was
assigned by local rule to Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D.
Austin. ECF No. 1. On June 14, 2019, Boone Hall filed the
instant motion for summary judgment as to Dixon's third
cause of action. ECF No. 28. On July 20, 2019, Dixon
responded to the motion, ECF No. 33, to which Boone Hall
replied, ECF No. 36. On August 18, 2018, Magistrate Judge
Austin issued an R&R, recommending that the court deny
Boone Hall's motion. ECF No. 37. Boone Hall filed
objections to the R&R on September 3, 2019. ECF No. 40.
Dixon responded to the objections on September 6, 2019. ECF
No. 41. Therefore, the matter is now ripe for the court's
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the court.
Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The
recommendation carries no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
court. Id. at 270-71. The court may “accept,
reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate judge . . . or
recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court is
charged with making a de novo determination of any
portion of the R&R to which a specific objection is made.
Id. However, de novo review is unnecessary
when a party makes general and conclusory objections without
directing a court's attention to a specific error in the
magistrate judge's proposed findings. Orpiano v.
Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence
of a specific objection, the court reviews the R&R only
for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident
Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (citation
omitted). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous'
when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing
court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and
firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.”
United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395
Motion for Summary Judgment
judgment shall be granted if the pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “By its very terms, this standard
provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material
fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that
might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law
will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Id. at 248. “[S]ummary judgment will not lie
if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,'
that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.
“[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's
function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine
the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. The
court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party and draw all inferences in its favor.
Id. at 255.
party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden
of demonstrating to the district court that there is no
genuine issue of material fact.” Major v.
Greenville Hous. Auth., 2012 WL 3000680, at *1 (D.S.C.
Apr. 11, 2012). Nevertheless, “when a properly
supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse
party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there
is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id.
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The plain language of Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) “mandates the entry of
summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, against a party who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential
to that party's case, and on which that party will bear
the burden of proof at trial.” Ce ...