Category Archives: Summary Judgment

Single act may create hostile work environment, according to Seventh Circuit in Berry v. Chicago Transit Authority

A few days ago, I post­ed my arti­cle on PAR Elec­tri­cal Con­trac­tors, Inc. v. Bev­elle , in which the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court ruled that a sin­gle episode involv­ing mul­ti­ple uses of the N-word could cre­ate a racial­ly hos­tile work envi­ron­ment.

The US Court of Appeals for the Sev­enth Cir­cuit just released an opin­ion in Berry v. Chica­go Tran­sit Author­i­ty, – F.3d –, – WL — (7th Cir. August 23, 2010), which rais­es the sim­i­lar issue: Can a sin­gle instance of sex­u­al harass­ment cre­ate a hos­tile work envi­ron­ment? And the answer was yes, depend­ing on the cir­cum­stances.

Ms. Berry is Sex­u­al­ly Harassed in a Sin­gle Inci­dent

Cyn­thia Berry was an employ­ee at the Chica­go Tran­sit Author­i­ty. She was on her break and sat at a pic­nic style table with three male co-work­ers. A fourth male co-work­er, Philip Carmichael, had fol­lowed her to the pic­nic area and ordered Ms. Berry to get up from the table. Offend­ed by Mr. Carmichael’s “com­mand­ing tone”, Ms. Berry remained seat­ed. Mr. Carmichael then sat down and “strad­dled the bench” so he was fac­ing one of the male co-work­ers at the pic­nic table, and so that Mr. Carmichael’s back was close to Ms. Berry. The oth­er three male co-work­ers got up from where they were seat­ed at the pic­nic table and moved to the oth­er end of the table. Then:

Berry says Carmichael remained where he was seat­ed and began rub­bing his back against her shoul­der. She jumped up, told him not to rub him­self against her, and sat down next to Hardy at the oth­er end of the table. At this point,
Berry says, Mar­shall began telling her to get up from the table again. Not want­i­ng Mar­shall to think he could order her around, she remained seat­ed, but began rub­bing her tem­ples to com­pose her­self. Accord­ing to Berry, she next felt Carmichael grab­bing her breasts and lift­ing her up from the bench. Hold­ing her in the air, he rubbed her but­tocks against the front of his body—from his chest to his penis—three times before bring­ing her to the ground with force. Berry land­ed off-bal­ance, with only one leg on the ground, and says Carmichael then pushed her into a fence. Upset and want­i­ng to avoid any men, she lay down in a bus for the rest of her shift.

 

Con­tin­ue read­ing Sin­gle act may cre­ate hos­tile work envi­ron­ment, accord­ing to Sev­enth Cir­cuit in Berry v. Chica­go Tran­sit Author­i­ty

Fourth Circuit rules that pension contribution rules may be age biased

The Fourth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, in an unpub­lished opin­ion, addressed whether an employer’s pen­sion con­tri­bu­tion rules may con­sti­tute age dis­crim­i­na­tion under the Age Dis­crim­i­na­tion in Employ­ment Act of 1967, in Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­ni­ty Com­mis­sion v. Bal­ti­more Coun­ty, –F.3d. — (4th Cir. 2010). The unan­i­mous opin­ion was writ­ten by Judge Den­nis Shed, and was joined by Judge Roger Gre­go­ry and Arther L. Alar­con (Senior Judge on Ninth Cir­cuit, sit­ting by des­ig­na­tion).

Can you be sexually harassed behind your back?

It might be obvi­ous, but it seems a bit dif­fi­cult to win on a claim for sex­u­al harass­ment where all of the harass­ment occurs behind your back (and by “behind your back”, I mean sit­u­a­tions where the harass­ing behav­ior occurs when the com­plain­ing employ­ee is not phys­i­cal­ly present to expe­ri­ence or hear what is hap­pen­ing).

The Fourth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals addressed this issue in Pueschel v. Peters, 577 F.3d 558 (4th Cir. 2009), in a unan­i­mous deci­sion writ­ten by Judge Roger Gre­go­ry in which Judges M. Blane Michael and Robert Bruce King joined.

The Fourth Cir­cuit didn’t have much dif­fi­cul­ty reach­ing the con­clu­sion that, for any claim alleg­ing a hos­tile work envi­ron­ment (includ­ing sex­u­al harass­ment), you can’t suc­ceed if all of the mis­con­duct about which you com­plain occurred at work when you were not at work.

Twen­ty Eight Years of Lit­i­ga­tion!!!

This case grows out of an incred­i­bly long his­to­ry of lit­i­ga­tion (includ­ing sev­er­al dif­fer­ent law­suits and appeals (some of which were suc­cess­ful)) filed by Ms. Pueschel against her employ­er, the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion (“FAA”). The lit­i­ga­tion start­ed in 1981 and end­ed with this Fourth Cir­cuit deci­sion in 2009 (I am not kid­ding, and I am not sure this deci­sion marks the end of all of her lit­i­ga­tion).

Con­tin­ue read­ing Can you be sex­u­al­ly harassed behind your back?

Was the boss “merely crude”, or was he sexually harassing her?

Sex­u­al harass­ment claims fre­quent­ly require judges and juries to dis­tin­guish between “mere­ly crude” behav­ior, which doesn’t vio­late the employee’s rights, and “sex­u­al harass­ment”, which does. The Fourth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals addressed that issue in EEOC v. Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic, PA, 609 F.3d 320 (4th Cir. 2010) (opin­ion at Fourth Circuit’s site), and didn’t have a lot of trou­ble con­clud­ing that the con­duct in issue could rea­son­ably be viewed by a jury as sex­u­al harass­ment, rul­ing in favor of the employ­ee. One of the key issues was whether the con­duct was “severe or per­va­sive” enough to con­sti­tute a “hos­tile work envi­ron­ment”.  The unan­i­mous opin­ion was writ­ten Judge J. Harvie Wilkin­son III, joined by Judges Andre M. Davis and C. Arlen Beam (from the Eighth Cir­cuit).

Doc­tor on Doc­tor Harass­ment at Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic

Stethoscope Dr. John Kessel was the own­er of Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic in South Car­oli­na, and was accused by a for­mer female doc­tor at the clin­ic, Dr. Deb­o­rah Waechter, of sex­u­al­ly harass­ing her. Dr. Kessel was Dr. Waechter’s super­vi­sor. Dr. Waechter worked for him for 3 years and quit, alleged­ly over a broad range of sex­u­al­ly explic­it state­ments made dur­ing most of those 3 years (I’ll dis­cuss the specifics below).

Dr. Waechter’s Law­suit

Dr. Waechter then filed a charge of dis­crim­i­na­tion with the EEOC, alleg­ing that Dr. Kessel’s behav­ior cre­at­ed a “hos­tile work envi­ron­ment”, and the EEOC then filed suit on behalf of Dr. Waechter against Dr. Kessel’s clin­ic under Title VII of the Civ­il Rights Act of 1964.

After dis­cov­ery was con­duct­ed. Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic filed a motion for sum­ma­ry judg­ment, and the fed­er­al tri­al judge grant­ed it. The tri­al judge rea­soned that the offen­sive con­duct was “not par­tic­u­lar­ly fre­quent,” most­ly involved “the type of crude jokes that do not run afoul of Title VII,” did not cause Dr. Waechter to miss work or feel “severe psy­cho­log­i­cal stress,” and did not include inap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing or phys­i­cal threats.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Was the boss “mere­ly crude”, or was he sex­u­al­ly harass­ing her?