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KENT v. HENDERSON

November 24, 1999

VIVIAN J. GERHART KENT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM J. HENDERSON, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

I. FACTS

The following facts are uncontested or viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Beginning on or about November 1, 1995, while employed at the Kutztown Post Office, plaintiff was subjected to several unwelcomed sexual advances by Mr. Jay Wentzel, another employee at the Kutztown Post Office. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 1). These advances included Mr. Wentzel's rubbing plaintiff's back, forcing food into plaintiff's mouth, placing his hand under plaintiff's shirt, placing his hands inside the back of plaintiff's pants, pulling plaintiff toward him in attempts to kiss her, placing unwanted gifts and cards in plaintiff's car, and generally harassing plaintiff. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 1). In fact, Mr. Wentzel ultimately entered the Berks County Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program on charges of stalking and harassing plaintiff. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. B).

After these unwanted sexual advances occurred, plaintiff reported Mr. Wentzel's conduct to her immediate supervisor, Postmaster Robert Sarnoski. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 1). As a result of plaintiff's report and because of his conduct toward plaintiff, Mr. Wentzel was suspended for one week. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. 7). Also, thereafter, the postal authorities arranged both plaintiff's and Mr. Wentzel's work schedules to ensure that they both were not physically present in the post office at the same time. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 2).

On January 20, 1996, approximately two to three months after Mr. Wentzel's alleged sexual advancements, Mr. Wentzel's son and another man confronted plaintiff while she was delivering mail. The unidentified man "made an angry face at [her], raised his fist and shook it at [her]." (Pl.'s Aff., p. 2). On February 2, 1996, plaintiff reported to work and was informed by a clerk that Mr. Wentzel had telephoned and asked why plaintiff's car was at the post office. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 2). In addition, on February 3, 1996, plaintiff was delivering mail after a particularly heavy snowfall when she noticed tire tracks at each mailbox along her route. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 2). According to plaintiff, she took these tracks as an indication that "Mr. Wentzel was letting [her] know that he had been there, by driving the route before [her]." (Pl.'s Aff., p. 2). Plaintiff notified the postal authorities of each of these incidents, but the postal authorities took no action. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 3).

Due to the stress caused by Mr. Wentzel's sexual harassment and by these three post-harassment incidents, plaintiff requested and was granted a transfer to the Hamburg Post Office. While at the Hamburg Post Office, plaintiff became aware that her co-workers knew of her reasons for leaving the Kutztown Post Office. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 3). In fact, plaintiff heard other employees make statements to the effect that "they better watch what they say or they might get in trouble for sexual harassment." (Pl.'s Aff., p. 3). While employed at the Hamburg Post Office, plaintiff was "treated like an outcast" and generally ignored by her co-workers. (Pl.'s Aff., p. 3).

Plaintiff's claims raise three principal issues. The first is whether Mr. Wentzel was plaintiff's supervisor. The second is whether defendant took prompt remedial action to stop Mr. Wentzel's harassment after learning of plaintiff's complaint. The third is whether Mr. Wentzel's conduct during the alleged incidents of January 20, 1996, February 2, 1996, and February 3, 1996 and the conduct of plaintiff's co-workers while she was assigned to the Hamburg Post Office constituted discrimination because of plaintiff's sex.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party can "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986). The court must accept the non-movant's version of the facts as true, and resolve conflicts in the non-movant's favor. See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Amer., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912, 113 S.Ct. 1262 (1993).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). Once the movant has done so, however, the non-moving party cannot rest on its pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Rather, the non-movant must then "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of every element essential to his case, based on the affidavits or by depositions and admissions on file." Harter v. GAF Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 852 (3d Cir. 1992); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Title VII and PHRA Hostile Environment Claims

1. Employer hostile environment ...


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