United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
August 26, 2005.
LISA A. VALENTI, Plaintiff,
TRIANGLE CIRCUITS OF PITTSBURGH, INC.; THE MILLENNIA GROUP, INC., t/d/b/a TRIANGLE CIRCUITS OF PITTSBURGH, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Presently before the Court for disposition is the MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support, filed by Defendants
Triangle Circuits of Pittsburgh, Inc. and The Millennia Group,
Inc., t/d/b/a Triangle Circuits of Pittsburgh (collectively
hereinafter referred to as "Triangle Circuits") (Document Nos.
10 and 11, respectively), and Plaintiff's brief in opposition
(Document No. 16). After careful consideration of Defendants'
motion, the filings in support and opposition thereto, the
memoranda of the parties, the relevant case law, and the record
as a whole, the Court finds that there is not sufficient record
evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
Plaintiff, Lisa A. Valenti, on her claims of discrimination due
to her sex. Therefore, the Court will grant the motion for
summary judgment of Defendants Triangle Circuits of Pittsburgh,
Inc. and The Millennia Group, Inc., t/d/b/a Triangle Circuits of
Pittsburgh, Inc. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff filed this civil rights action on May 23, 2003, in
which she alleges that sexually harassing conduct by her
"supervisors" and co-workers was of such severity that she was
forced to resign, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 42 P.S. § 951, et seq.
("PHRA"). Defendants have filed the instant motion for summary
judgment, in which they contend that Plaintiff is unable to
establish a prima facie case on either her Title VII and/or
The facts relevant to this discussion, and viewed in the light
most favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows. Plaintiff was an
employee with Triangle Circuits from October 1995 until March 7,
2002, and worked at all times as a laborer in the Image
Department. At the time she commenced her employment, she was
provided with a Triangle Circuits' "Employee Handbook" ("Employee
Handbook I"). In 1999, the Employee Handbook was revised and the
revised edition was in effect at the time Plaintiff's employment
with Triangle Circuits terminated in 2002. ("Employee Handbook
II"). Employee Handbook I and II contain the following identical
Sexual Harassment Policy:
Harassment on the basis of sex is illegal and will
not be tolerated at Triangle Circuits. Unwelcome
sexual advancements, requests for sexual favors and
other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
constitute sexual harassment when: Submission to such conduct is either explicitly or
implicitly a term or condition of an individual's
Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used
for the basis of employment decisions; or
Such conduct unreasonably interferes with an
individual's work performance or creates an
intimidating, hostile or offensive working
Any sexual harassment should be promptly reported to
your supervisor, your supervisor's manager
(supervisor), Human Resources or any other level of
management up to and including the President of the
Company. Claims of sexual harassment will be promptly
investigated and corrective action will be taken as
warranted. To the extent possible, such claims will
be kept confidential and the privacy of the
individuals involved will be respected.
Sexual harassment is extremely serious misconduct
which will result in disciplinary action up to and
Defs' Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Exhibit F, Sexual
Harassment Policy. During her deposition, Plaintiff admitted to
"skimming" through the Employee Handbook soon after being hired
and stated that "I knew there was something in the book about
[sexual harassment], but I don't remember recalling reading it."
See Valenti Depo. at 20, 36.
Plaintiff contends that the allegedly harassing conduct began
approximately four months before her employment terminated, in
approximately November 2001 at the time Dan Laux ("Laux") became
the Group Leader of the employees in the Image Department. Both
Plaintiff and Laux had applied for the Group Leader position; but
by Plaintiff's own admission, Laux was considerably more
experienced and was appointed to the Group Leader position
instead of Plaintiff.
The responsibilities of the Group Leader do not involve
supervisory responsibilities, but rather include making sure that
all jobs are completed and that all employees within the Image Department are working. The Group Leader does not decide
employee shifts or schedules, and does not evaluate employee
performance or make any decisions with regard to personnel or
salary. See Skelley Depo., at 76.
Plaintiff's last day of employment with Triangle Circuits was
March 7, 2002. Prior to this date, Plaintiff had made
arrangements with her immediate supervisor, John Macura
("Macura"), that on March 7, 2002, she would be allowed to arrive
at work one-half hour earlier than the beginning of her shift so
that she could leave one-half hour before the end of her shift.
Macura advised her that she would be permitted to leave work
early as long as there were no "hot" (i.e., emergency) jobs to
complete prior to her normal shift change.
On March 7, 2002, at 4:00 p.m., which was one-half hour before
the end of Plaintiff's shift, there was a "hot" job that needed
to be finished. Plaintiff began to "rant and rave" at Laux and
punched out at 4:01 p.m., before the end of her shift and before
finishing the "hot" job.
At approximately 4:20 p.m. that day, Plaintiff called Susan
Skelley, Human Resources Manager for Triangle Circuits, and
reported that "Dan was `yelling and screaming' at her for leaving
early" and that she had "never been treated so badly or mean in
[her] life by anyone. . . ." Def's Br. in Support of Mot. for
Summ. J., Exhibit J.
Later that evening, at 8:28 P.M., Plaintiff called the "call
off extension" at Triangle Circuits and left a message that she
was calling off work for Friday, March 8, 2002.
On Friday, March 8, Plaintiff again called Skelley and, for the
first time, reported that she had been sexually harassed in her
department. Plaintiff told Skelley that she had proof of the harassment as she had been recording everything in a
notebook. Skelley told Plaintiff that she would call her back
after Skelley had had an opportunity to investigate the matter.
Sometime before lunch, Skelley called Plaintiff and left a
message on her answering machine at home, in which she asked that
Plaintiff return her call because she needed to talk to her.
Plaintiff did not call back. Later in the day, Skelley again
called Plaintiff and left another message in which she asked
Plaintiff "to come in on Monday (March 11) at 8:00 A.M. so we can
talk about this situation in more detail and bring in the
documentation that you have." Id.
Plaintiff did not report to work on March 11, 2002, but rather
again called the "call off extension" at 6:43 A.M. on the morning
of March 11th and reported that she was taking a vacation day.
Skelley again attempted to reach Plaintiff at home, but to no
avail. Skelly left a message on Plaintiff's answering machine
stating that "we need to talk about this. I cannot let you come
back to work until we talk." Id. Plaintiff never responded.
On Tuesday, March 12, 2002, a certified letter of resignation
from Plaintiff was delivered to Skelly in which Plaintiff stated
that she was being forced to leave as a result of "constant and
pervasive sexual harassment" in the workplace.
Plaintiff alleges that the harassment she experienced included
inappropriate comments, unwanted touching and exposure to
pornographic material. During her deposition, Plaintiff
specifically complained about the conduct of Dan Laux, Group
Leader; Robert Nahrwold, Vice President; Dan Kaplan, Maintenance
Supervisor; and David Cameron, a machinist. By Plaintiff's own
admission, however, she never reported the alleged harassing
conduct to any supervisor, manager, human resources personnel or
a co-worker. See Valenti depo, at 66, 88, 96, 99. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment should be granted "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c). Thus, the Court's task is not to resolve disputed issues
of fact, but to determine whether there exist any factual issues
to be tried. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
247-49 (1986). The non-moving party must raise "more than a mere
scintilla of evidence in its favor" in order to overcome a
summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of West Chester,
891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Liberty Lobby,
477 U.S. at 249)). Further, the non-moving party cannot rely on
unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere
suspicions in attempting to survive a summary judgment motion.
Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325
(1986)). Distilled to its essence, the summary judgment standard
requires the non-moving party to create a "sufficient
disagreement to require submission [of the evidence] to a jury."
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251-52.
Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer "to discriminate
against any individual with respect to his [or her] compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such
individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).*fn1 In order for a plaintiff to
establish a hostile work environment, he or she must show harassing behavior "sufficiently severe or pervasive to
alter the conditions of [her] employment." Pennsylvania State
Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129, 124 S. Ct. 2342 (2004) (citing
Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986);
Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22 (1993)). In
addition, an employee who seeks to demonstrate a constructive
discharge, as does Plaintiff in the case at bar, must also show
that "the abusive working environment became so intolerable that
her resignation qualified as a fitting response." Id. In
particular, the plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) she suffered
intentional discrimination because of her gender; (2) the
discrimination was pervasive and regular; (3) the discrimination
detrimentally affected her; (4) the discrimination would have
detrimentally affected a reasonable person of the same protected
class in her position; and (5) there is a basis for respondeat
superior liability. Kunin v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 175 F.3d 289,
295 (3d Cir. 1999).
In determining whether an environment is sufficiently hostile
or abusive, courts must look to the totality of the
circumstances, including the "frequency of the discriminatory
conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or
humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it
unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance."
Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 787-88 (1998).
The conduct "must be extreme to amount to a change in the terms
and conditions of employment." Id.
The standard of employer liability under Title VII varies
depending on whether the alleged harasser was a supervisor or
merely a co-worker. See, e.g., Faragher v. City of Raton,
524 U.S. 775 (1998). 1. Vicarious Liability of Employer for Supervisory Persons
Neither the United States Supreme Court nor the Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit has explicitly defined the term
"supervisor" as it is used in the context of Title VII. The
guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
("EEOC") state that: "[a]n individual qualifies as an employee's
`supervisor' if: a. the individual has authority to undertake or
recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee;
or b. The individual has authority to direct the employee's daily
work activities." EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Employer
Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors, Following
Section 615 of the Compliance Manual;
(www.eeoc.gov.docs.harassment.html). Various courts have held
that most obvious supervisory powers include the power "to hire
and fire, and to set work schedules and pay rates. . . ." Sofia
v. McWilliams, 2003 WL 1818414 (E.D. Pa. 2003). See, e.g.,
Deffenbaugh-Williams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 156 F.3d 581, 592
(5th Cir. 1998) (where employee had authority to discharge
plaintiff, employee was a supervisor under Faragher); Phillips
v. Taco Bell Corp., 156 F.3d 884, 888 (8th Cir. 1998) (store
manager was a supervisor for Title VII liability purposes due to
degree of authority he exercised over the plaintiff); Lissau v.
Southern Food Serv., Inc., 159 F.3d 177, 179 (4th Cir. 1998)
(where harasser had authority to "hire and fire sales
representatives" such as the plaintiff, harasser was a supervisor
for purposes of Title VII).
a. Dan Laux, Group Leader
Applying these standards here, the Court finds that Plaintiff
has presented no evidence from which a reasonable juror could
conclude that Dan Laux was her "supervisor" for purposes of Title
VII employer liability. Although Laux was the Group Leader of the
Image Department, he did not enjoy any supervisory authority over any
employee nor did he have the authority to make any decisions
affecting the terms and conditions of Plaintiff's employment,
i.e., the authority to hire, fire, promote, demote, discipline or
transfer Plaintiff. See Skelley Depo., at 75-76.
b. Robert Nahrwold, Vice President of Triangle Circuits
Plaintiff alleges that the conduct of Robert Nahrwold, Vice
President of Triangle Circuits, created a hostile work
environment. In Ellerth/Faragher, the United States Supreme
Court held that "[a]n employer is subject to vicarious liability
to a victimized employee for an actionable hostile environment
created by a supervisor with immediate (or successively higher)
authority over the employee." Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 765;
Faragher, 524 U.S. at 807. As Vice President of Triangle
Circuits, the Court holds for purposes of this opinion only that
Nahrwold is a "supervisor" for purposes of Title VII liability.
Plaintiff alleges that on one occasion Nahrwold engaged in
"inappropriate" conduct when he showed her a "picture of a naked
woman on a motorcycle." Both the Supreme Court and our appellate
court have held that "`simple teasing,' offhand comments, and
isolated incidents (unless extremely serious)" are not actionable
under Title VII. Abramson v. William Paterson College of New
Jersey, 260 F.3d 265, 280 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Faragher v.
City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788). Instead, the harassing
behavior must be "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
conditions of [plaintiff's] employment." Pennsylvania State
Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129, 124 S. Ct. 2342, 2347 (2004).
Plaintiff testified that Nahrwold and her husband had discussed
motorcycles on several occasions and that Nahrwold had never been
anything other than friendly towards her and her husband. Nahrwold testified that both he and Plaintiff
are avid motorcyclists and, immediately prior to showing
Plaintiff the picture at issue, they had conversed about unusual
custom motorcycles people have fabricated, to wit:
She told me about the custom motorcycles that she saw
and she remembered that one looked like a '57 Chevy
and it's just amazing what people do with
Harley-Davidson and fabrication of bikes.
So I said, wow, that's something. I said you know,
we just kept talking. I said, you know, when you're
done, if you want, stop up. My friend sent me an
e-mail. I have a picture of a Harley, I'll show it to
you. It's all custom, you know. She said, okay, and I
put my cigarette out and went back to my office.
I guess she finished her cigarette, because within a
few minutes she came up to the office. And I said,
here, check this out. And I went into the e-mail and
opened the e-mail and flipped up the attachment,
which was on the computer screen, and said Check this
out. And she went, Wow. She says, Cool.
I said Yes, it's something. Amazing what people do. I
clicked it off. She said, Later. I said, See you
later. And she left.
Nahrwold Depo. at 20-22.
Assuming for purposes of this discussion that the picture of
the motorcycle and/or the circumstances under which Nahrwold
showed it to Plaintiff was not appropriate and/or was offensive,
the Court finds and rules that Plaintiff's claim of hostile work
environment involving Nahrwold is limited to a single isolated
event. This evidence falls far short of establishing a regular
pattern of discrimination by a supervisor at Triangle Circuits.
2. Respondeat Superior Liability of Employer for Conduct of
The standard to establish sexual harassment by a co-worker
proceeds under a theory of respondeat superior. Andrews v. City
of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1478 (3d Cir. 1990). "Liability exists where the defendant knew or should have known
of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action."
Id. at 1486.
Plaintiff alleges that over an approximately four month period,
from November 2001 until her resignation in March 2002, she
endured sexual harassment in the form of sexually harassing
remarks and suggestive overtones "on a daily basis." Complaint,
at ¶ 14. However, by Plaintiff's own admission she never
reported any of the alleged offensive conduct of her co-workers
to a supervisor, manager, human resources personnel or a
co-worker, prior to May 8, 2002 when she reported to Skelley over
the telephone that she had been "sexually harassed." See
Valenti depo, at 66, 88, 96, 99. The uncontroverted summary
judgment evidence further shows that Plaintiff did not return the
multiple phone calls of Skelley nor did she return to work on
March 11, 2002, as directed by Skelley so that they could "talk
about this situation in more detail. . . . ."
Moreover, the evidence is undisputed that Triangle Circuits had
in place during the relevant time a policy against sexual
harassment which defined sexual harassment, advised employees to
promptly report sexual harassment, contained procedures for the
reporting of complaints, and allowed complaints to be made to
persons other than the complaining employee's immediate
supervisor. It is also undisputed that the policy was published
in both Employee Handbook I and II.
Accordingly, the Court finds and rules that the evidence
presented by Plaintiff is insufficient to prove that
management-level employees had actual or constructive knowledge
about the existence of a sexually hostile environment and/or that
Triangle Circuits failed to take prompt and adequate remedial
action. Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1469. To the contrary, the Court finds and rules that the undisputed record evidence shows that
once Plaintiff informed Skelley of her sexual harassment
allegations, Skelley, on numerous occasions, attempted to talk to
Plaintiff to find out more information regarding Plaintiff's
sexual harassment allegations; however, Plaintiff never returned
Skelley's phone calls.
For all these reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendants will be granted. An appropriate Order follows. ORDER OF COURT
AND NOW, this 26th of August, 2005, in accordance with the
foregoing Memorandum Opinion, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED,
AND DECREED that the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendants Triangle Circuits of Pittsburgh, Inc. and The
Millennia Group, Inc., t/d/b/a Triangle Circuits of Pittsburgh is
GRANTED and judgment is hereby entered in favor of Triangle
Circuits of Pittsburgh, Inc. and The Millennia Group, Inc.,
t/d/b/a Triangle Circuits of Pittsburgh.
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