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Taylor v. Lexington County Sheriff's Department

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

December 9, 2019

Sheralet P. Taylor, Plaintiff
v.
Lexington County Sheriff's Department & Lexington County Detention Center, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE Senior United States District Judge

         Through this action, Plaintiff Sheralet P. Taylor (“Plaintiff”) seeks recovery from her former employers, Lexington County Sheriff's Department and Lexington County Detention Center (“Defendants”), alleging state law claims for breach of contract, workers' compensation retaliation, and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, as well as a violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). ECF. No. 1-1.[1] The matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed July 3, 2019. ECF No. 34. Plaintiff filed her response in opposition on July 17, 2019. ECF No. 36. Defendants filed a reply. ECF No. 37.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (B)(2)(g), D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pre-trial proceedings and a Report and Recommendation (“Report”). On October 11, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted as to all claims. ECF No. 45. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the Report and the serious consequences if they failed to do so. Plaintiff filed her objections on November 1, 2019. ECF No. 49. Defendants filed a reply. ECF No. 50. This matter is now ripe for resolution.

         After conducting a de novo review as to the objections made, and considering the record, the applicable law, and the Report of the Magistrate Judge, the court adopts the Report. For the reasons below, the court grants summary judgment on all claims.

         I. Standard

         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. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews only for clear error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating “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.'”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         Summary Judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). On a motion for summary judgment, the district court must “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1868 (2014) (per curiam)). “Summary Judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits.” Id. Therefore, the court cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Id. at 569. The district court may not “credit[] the evidence of the party seeking summary judgment and fail[] properly to acknowledge key evidence offered by the party opposing that motion.” Id. at 570. However, a party “cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). Therefore, “[m]ere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ennis v. National Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).

         II. Discussion

         The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of all claims: on the Equal Pay Act claim due to expiration of the statute of limitations, and on the state law claims because Plaintiff did not produce evidence establishing she was constructively discharged. ECF No. 45 at 4. Specifically, regarding the Equal Pay Act claim, the Magistrate Judge determined the general two-year statute of limitations applies because the record does not permit a finding of willfulness required to trigger the three-year statute of limitations. Id. As to the state law claims, because constructive discharge is a required element of all claims, Plaintiff's failure to establish it renders those claims subject to dismissal. Id. at 4-6.

         Plaintiff objects to both conclusions. ECF No. 49. She contends Defendants' violations of the Equal Pay Act were willful and therefore the three-year statute of limitations should apply. Id. at 4. She also objects to the conclusion she was not constructively discharged, arguing she has shown “a pattern and practice of the Defendant . . . to drive her out of her job.” Id. at 5. She contends there are issues of fact from which a jury could find she was “subjected to an objective level of intolerable treatment.” Id. at 7. Therefore, she requests the court deny the summary judgment motion and set the case for trial.

         Defendants contend Plaintiff failed to forecast evidence showing Defendants willfully paid her less than her proffered male comparators; therefore, the Equal Pay Act claim is untimely. ECF No. 50. In addition, Defendants argue the facts asserted by Plaintiff in support of constructive discharge fail to meet the required standard, and that her request for retirement was “related to her physical limitations as opposed to any emotional or stress issues related to the alleged conduct of Defendants.” Id. at 4. Defendants therefore ask the court to adopt the Report and grant summary judgment.

         a. Equal Pay Act claim

         In support of her Equal Pay Act claim, Plaintiff has submitted three affidavits: one from herself and two from co-workers, Matthews and Whitty. ECF Nos. 36-2, 36-4, 36-5. These affidavits include statements that Plaintiff was subjected to lower pay that her similarly situated male colleagues, but do not provide any information regarding what the pay for any individual was, what their respective duties and responsibilities were, and how they were comparators to Plaintiff. See Strag v. Board of Trustees, Craven Community College, 55 F.3d 943, 948 (4th Cir. 1995) (“This Court has held that in order to establish a prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that she (1) receives lower pay than a male co-employee (2) for performing work substantially equal in skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. The comparison must be made factor by factor with the male comparator.”) (emphasis added). The court therefore agrees with the Magistrate Judge these statements are conclusory and fail to make out a prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act.[2]

         Further, even assuming arguendo these statements are sufficient evidence of an Equal Pay Act claim, they are nonetheless insufficient to establish a willful violation of the Equal Pay Act, as necessary to trigger the three-year statute of limitations. The affidavits contain no allegation of knowledge or reckless disregard by Defendants regarding the alleged unequal pay or facts by which the court could infer a willful violation. Accordingly, ...


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