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DOUGHERTY v. HENDERSON

March 28, 2001

DONNA DOUGHERTY
v.
WILLIAM J. HENDERSON, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dubois, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

On December 9, 1999, plaintiff filed a pro se Complaint against the defendant alleging that the Postal Service did not act upon allegations of co-worker sexual harassment. Following appointment of counsel, plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on January 21, 2000, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. On April 27, 2000, the Court denied Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, without prejudice. The defendant was granted leave to file a second motion for summary judgment after the completion of discovery.

Presently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with supporting affidavits and exhibits (Document No. 15, filed Aug. 31, 2000), Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law In Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with supporting exhibits (Document No. 17, filed Sept. 21, 2000), Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 18, filed Sept. 27, 2000) and Supplement to Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 19, filed Sept. 29, 2000). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, and judgment will be entered in favor of the defendant.

II. FACTS

This case stems from allegations of sexual harassment which occurred while the plaintiff was working for the United States Postal Service. In 1985, plaintiff began working for the Postal Service as a letter carrier. Dep. of Donna M. Dougherty, July 26, 2000 ("Ex. D-A"), p. 25. In 1995, after sustaining a shoulder injury on the job, she was assigned to permanent limited duty as a clerk in the visitor registration room, alternatively called the access room, located on the first floor in the main lobby of the Philadelphia Processing and Distribution Center, also referred to as the 30th Street Station facility. The access room is described as being very small, like a small box, approximately 12 feet by 10 feet in dimensions. Dep. of Karen Sudyka-Weinberg, Aug. 8, 2000 ("Ex. P-A"), pp. 11-13. Plaintiff's duties in the access room involved distributing temporary badges to fellow employees who did not have permanent badges. She shared those duties with, among others, Anita Alexander, a co-worker. Ex. D-A, pp. 28-31; Ex. P-A, pp. 9-10. During the period in which the harassment was alleged to have occurred, the access room was under the supervision of a supervisor trainee, officially classified as a 204-B Supervisor, Karen Sudyka. Ex. P-A, p. 6.

In March 1998, Joseph Engram was assigned to work with plaintiff and Ms. Alexander in the access room. Engram had previously been suspended for 13 months for threatening another supervisor, and had been described by management as having a problem with supervision. Dep. of Joseph Engram, Aug. 8, 2000 ("Ex. D-B"), pp. 36-47; Ex. P-A, pp. 16-17.

Plaintiff testified that from May 11, 1998 through May 25, 1998, Mr. Engram would solicit her attention by singing and would then proceed to rub his crotch which smiling at her. Ex. D-A, pp. 108-09. According to plaintiff, Mr. Engram would rub his crotch for a few seconds — the "time it would take [her] to turn, look, and look away." Ex D-A, p. 109. Mr. Engram denied engaging in the conduct alleged by plaintiff. Ex. D-B, pp. 48-49. Ms. Alexander also denied witnessing this conduct. Dep. of Anita Alexander, Aug. 8, 2000 ("Ex. D-C"), p. 17.

Plaintiff and Mr. Engram worked together three days each week. Ex. D-A, p. 153. On May 25, 1998, plaintiff told Ms. Sudyka about Mr. Engram's actions, stating that "the thought of having to work with him was making me physically and emotionally sick." Ex. D-A, p. 115. In response, Ms. Sudyka reassigned both plaintiff and Mr. Engram to different positions. Plaintiff was not reassigned until June 1, 1998 because plaintiff and Mr. Engram were not scheduled to work together until that date. Ms. Sudyka asked a male supervisor to speak with Mr. Engram about plaintiff's complaint. According to Mr. Engram, the male supervisor told him he had been accused by plaintiff of rubbing his stomach in her presence. Ex. D-B, p. 48.

On June 1, 1998, there was a confrontation between plaintiff and Mr. Engram about which plaintiff testified that Mr. Engram pointed his finger directly in her face and stated that plaintiff was making claims of sexual harassment because plaintiff "wanted him." Ex. D-A, pp. 120-21. During this incident, Ms. Sudyka was present and asked plaintiff to prepare a written statement. Ex. D-A, pp. 121-22. Ms. Sudyka testified that she separated plaintiff and Mr. Engram, but Ms. Sudyka did not talk to Mr. Engram at the time "because I was told that there was a sexual harassment committee, that I would just take Donna's statement and that was . . . all I was told to do." Ex. P-A, pp. 27-28. Plaintiff testified "Once I make this letter, they [Ms. Sudyka and Ms. Parrot] said `this kind of makes it official,' or something." Ex. P-A, pp. 122.

Rhonda Parrot, a senior manager, subsequently interviewed plaintiff, Mr. Engram, Ms. Alexander and others and initiated an investigated that was conducted by Edward Lugo, an Employee Assistance Counselor. Defendant asserts that the investigation ended without any findings because there were no corroborating witnesses to Mr. Engram's alleged harassing conduct. On the subject of witnesses, although Ms. Alexander denied seeing Mr. Engram harass plaintiff, Officer Fetko testified she told him she might have seen Mr. Engram grab his crotch. Dep. of Officer Michael J. Fetko, Aug. 8, 2000 ("Ex. P-B"), Attach. F1, pp. 2-3.

According to Officer Fetko, when he told Ms. Sudyka that Ms. Alexander told him she had seen Mr. Engram grab his crotch, "She understood what I was saying, but she told me that it was no longer in her hands, that the matter had been taken to a different level." Ex. P-B, p. 11. On November 2, 1998, Officer Fetko, at the request of Ernestine Jenkins who worked in Employee Assistance, submitted a written report covering Ms. Alexander's statements. That ended his involvement in the investigation. Ex. P-B, pp. 11-13. When Ms. Sudyka was asked whether she knew whether the investigation ended or whether there were any written findings, she testified that she did not know. Ex. P-A, p. 38. Plaintiff testified that after giving her statement, she was never contacted by Mr. Lugo. Ex. D-A, p. 142.

Between June 1, 1998 and June 22, 1998, when plaintiff left the Postal Service on disability, she testified that Engram "was stalking me." Ex. P-A, p. 149-50. Although he was assigned to another floor, "he found a way every day at least once to be around, or for me to see him, or to be at the door." Ex. P-A, pp. 149-52. Those incidents "were enough to send me over the edge." Ex. P-A, p. 153.

Plaintiff wrote to a Senior Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints official, Processing Specialist, Alexander Branch, on October 22, 1998, regarding her allegations of harassment by Mr. Engram. Ex. D-A, p. 88; Letter from plaintiff to Alexander Branch, Oct. 22, 1998 ("Ex. D-D"). On May 26, 1999, plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") about the harassment. EEO Complaint of Discrimination in the Postal Service, May 26, 1999 ("Ex. D-F"); Decl. of Robinn A. Reed, ¶ 6. On September 9, 1999, the EEOC dismissed her complaint as untimely, saying she failed to contact an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") counselor within 45 days of the alleged harassment. Dismissal of Formal EEO Complaint, Sept. 9, 1999, Case No. 1-C-191-0031-99 ("Ex. D-H"); Decl. of Robinn A. Reed, ¶ 7.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"If the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law[,]" summary judgment shall be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The Supreme Court has explained that Rule 56(c) requires "the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial — whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Therefore, "a motion for summary judgment must be granted unless the party opposing the motion can adduce evidence which, when considered in light of that party's burden of proof at trial, could be the basis for a jury finding in that party's favor." J.E. Mamiye & Sons, Inc. v. Fidelity Bank, 813 F.2d 610, 618 (3d Cir. 1987) (citing Anderson and Celotex Corp.).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) (quoting United States v. Diebold, 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)). However, the party opposing summary judgment "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Therefore, "[i]f the evidence [offered by the non-moving party] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). On the other hand, if reasonable minds can differ as to the import of the proffered evidence that speaks to an issue of material fact, summary judgment should not be granted.

IV. DISCUSSION

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, defendant raises two main arguments — that plaintiff did not exhaust her administrative remedies and has shown no equitable reason why the exhaustion requirement should be tolled, and that plaintiff's hostile work environment claim is not a cognizable Title VII cause of action. Those arguments will be addressed in turn.

A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

1. Exhaustion Within 45-Day Period

"It is a basic tenet of administrative law that a plaintiff must exhaust all required administrative remedies before bringing a claim for judicial relief." Robinson v. Dalton, 107 F.3d 1018, 1020 (3d Cir. 1997). The exclusive remedy for employees of the United States Postal Service who allege discrimination in the workplace is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16. Plaintiff's § 1981 claim for workplace discrimination is analyzed under the same framework as Title VII. See Stewart v. Rutgers, The State University, 120 F.3d 426, 432 (1997). Pursuant to regulations issued under Title VII, "[a]n aggrieved person ...


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