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Lauterborn v. R & T Mechanical

October 30, 2006

KIMBERLY LAUTERBORN, PLAINTIFF
v.
R & T MECHANICAL, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Muir

(Complaint filed 11/22/2005)

ORDER

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:

On November 22, 2005, Plaintiff Kimberly Lauterborn initiated this action by filing a complaint containing two claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Both of Lauterborn's claims relate to sexual harassment she suffered in connection with her employment at R & T Mechanical, Inc.

On September 8, 2006, R & T Mechanical, Inc., filed a motion for summary judgment together with a supporting brief, statement of undisputed material facts, and exhibits were filed with the motion. On September 26, 2006, Lauterborn filed her opposing brief, response to the movant's statement of undisputed material facts, counter-statement of facts, and exhibits. Although the brief was filed one day beyond the time allowed by the local rules, we will accept it as having been timely filed. R & T Mechanical, Inc., filed a reply brief on October 11, 2006, thereby ripening its summary judgment motion for disposition.

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no unresolved genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the material facts or the proper inferences which a fact finder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982).

Initially, the moving party has a burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This may be met by the moving party pointing out to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. "When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in ...[Rule 56], an adverse party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading...." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).

Rule 56 provides that, where such a motion is made and properly supported, the adverse party must show by affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The United States Supreme Court has commented that this requirement is tantamount to the non-moving party making a sufficient showing as to the essential elements of their case that a reasonable jury could find in their favor. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

Because summary judgment is a severe remedy, the Court should resolve any doubt about the existence of genuine issues of fact against the moving party. Ness v. Marshall, 660 F.2d 517, 519 (3d Cir. 1981).

The United States Supreme Court has stated that in motions for summary judgment a material fact is one which might affect the outcome of the suit under relevant substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). The Supreme Court also stated in Anderson that a dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id. at 248. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corporation, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has commented that "this standard is applied with 'added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent and credibility are crucial issues.'" Hankins v. City of Philadelphia, 189 F.3d 353, 363 (3d Cir. 1999)(quoting Robinson v. PPG Indus., Inc., 23 F.3d 1159, 1162 (7th Cir. 1994)). We will apply those principles to the pending summary judgment motion.

In considering the motion's merits, we rely upon the following undisputed facts to decide whether a reasonable jury, based upon the evidence of record, could find in favor of Lauterborn on one or both of her claims.

R & T Mechanical, Inc., was formed and began operations in 1987. Timothy Baughman is the owner and president of R & T Mechanical, Inc. The corporation is an industrial contractor which specializes in pipe-fitting, millwright work, rigging, metal fabrication, crane rentals, and industrial concrete.

At all relevant times R & T Mechanical, Inc., had an open door policy and a policy prohibiting immoral conduct. We interpret the phrase "open door policy" to mean that Baughman's door was always open to any one wishing to pursue a work-related grievance, such as a claim of sexual harassment.

In 1988 or 1989, R & T Mechanical, Inc., hired Robert Savidge as an Installation Foreman. Savidge and Baughman were personal friends. Savidge eventually became general manager of R & T Mechanical, Inc.'s, north division which was headquartered in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. Savidge's duties included the hiring and firing of R & T Mechanical, Inc.'s, north division employees. Savidge's only supervisor at R & T Mechanical, Inc., was Baughman.

On February 5, 1997, Savidge hired Arthur Weiler, Jr., as an employee at R & T Mechanical, Inc.'s, north division. In 2001 Weiler became a General Supervisor at the corporation's office in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. Savidge was Weiler's immediate supervisor.

In June of 1998 Savidge hired Lauterborn to work at R & T Mechanical, Inc.'s, north division. Before coming to work for R & T Mechanical, Inc., Lauterborn had no mechanical skills and no experience in metal fabrication or in any form of construction or building-related work. Lauterborn's husband had previously been hired at R & T Mechanical, Inc.'s, north division. Throughout her employment at R & T Mechanical, Inc., either Weiler or her husband was Lauterborn's immediate supervisor.

In October or November of 1998, Savidge began engaging in inappropriate sexually-charged behavior towards Lauterborn. In general, Savidge's behavior consisted of talking to Lauterborn about his family problems, begging Lauterborn to come to his motel room, offering Lauterborn money for sex, and promising that her husband would never discover their relationship. Savidge also grabbed her buttocks, smacked her buttocks, and tried to kiss her. Although Lauterborn never acquiesced in Savidge's sexual advances, she did from time to time accept the money that he offered to her. In total Lauterborn accepted six or seven hundred dollars from Savidge.

From 1999 through 2004, Lauterborn played in the same pool league as Savidge and in addition to playing pool with him on those league nights she shot pool with him every Tuesday and Thursday. Even when the pool league was over, Lauterborn would go to the bar and drink with Savidge at least two times per week.

In the spring of 2001, Weiler confronted Savidge regarding Savidge's sexual harassment of Lauterborn which resulted in Savidge telling Lauterborn "to keep her mouth shut." Although Savidge knew that Lauterborn had complained to Weiler, he did not take any adverse action against either Lauterborn or her husband.

Weiler repeatedly told Lauterborn to report Savidge's behavior to R & T Mechanical, Inc.'s, president, Timothy Baughman. Weiler guaranteed that she would not lose her job if she reported Savidge's sexual harassment to Baughman.

Another female employee of R & T Mechanical, Inc., in its north division facility was Judy Hitman. Hitman was friend of Lauterborn's and Hitman told Lauterborn to inform Baughman about Savidge's sexual harassment.

A third friend and co-worker of Lauterborn, Roger Hurd, told Lauterborn that she should inform Baughman about Savidge's sexual harassment.

Despite those suggestions by her co-employees, Lauterborn did not report any of Savidge's sexual harassment to Baughman. She also "begged" Weiler not to inform Baughman of Savidge's harassment.

From 2002 until the end of her employment at R & T Mechanical, Inc., Lauterborn's immediate supervisor was her husband, Theodore Lauterborn. Lauterborn never reported any of Savidge's sexual harassment to her husband and her husband never became aware of it while she was employed at R & T Mechanical, Inc.

In the summer of 2003, Weiler again confronted Savidge about Savidge's sexual harassment of Lauterborn. Although Savidge's sexual harassment of Lauterborn was less egregious after that confrontation, Savidge continued to make comments to Lauterborn that were inappropriate because of their sexual content.

In June of 2004 Lauterborn volunteered to work on a job in Alabama. The total number of people working on the Alabama job site, including those not employed by R & T Mechanical, Inc., was over one hundred. R & T Mechanical, Inc., needed every possible worker it had to work on the Alabama job.

Lauterborn made two trips to Alabama and each trip was expected to last two weeks. While in Alabama Lauterborn worked solely on the night crew, which was supervised by Weiler. Another employee of R & T Mechanical, Inc., Greg Nagy, was the supervisor of the day crew. There was little communication and no interaction between the day and night crews. Lauterborn did not experience any unwelcome sexual advances or sexual harassment during the first trip.

Also in June of 2004, Hitman complained to Weiler about Savidge's continued sexual harassment of Lauterborn. Savidge had also been sexually harassing Hitman. On a number of occasions ...


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