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Huston v. Proctor & Gamble Paper Products Co.

May 24, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure



Before the court is defendant's summary judgment motion requesting we dismiss plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. Plaintiff's complaint asserts claims of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951, et seq. ("PHRA"). Specifically, plaintiff contends she was exposed to a sexually hostile and offensive work environment while working for the defendant, and that her employment was ultimately terminated because she complained about such an environment. Defendant asserts that it is not liable for any alleged sexually hostile work environment because it launched an immediate investigation and took adequate remedial action after plaintiff made her complaint to management personnel. Defendant also contends there is no evidence that plaintiff's firing was done in retaliation for her complaint of sexual harassment.

On November 30, 2006, defendant filed its motion for summary judgment, which is now ripe for decision. For the following reasons, we will grant defendant's motion.


I. Standard of Review

It is appropriate for a court to grant a motion for summary judgment "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Material facts" are those which might affect the outcome of the suit. Id.; Justofin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004).

"If the nonmoving party has the burden of persuasion at trial, 'the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the court will draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the record in favor of the nonmoving party. Am. Flint Glass Workers Union v. Beaumont Glass Co., 62 F.3d 574, (3d Cir. 1995). The nonmoving party, however, cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment by merely offering general denials, vague allegations, or conclusory statements; rather the party must point to specific evidence in the record that demonstrates that there is a genuine issue as to a material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 32; Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).

II. Statement of Facts

Plaintiff began working for the defendant in 1990 as a Technician at defendant's Mehoopany plant. The Mehoopany plant manufactures various paper products and diapers. Plaintiff primarily worked on one of the several paper machines at the plant as a member of one of the four teams assigned to the machine. The teams, entitled A through D, each covered a different shift, but primarily worked on the same machine. Plaintiff worked on different shifts with different teams throughout her tenure. After suffering a back injury, plaintiff was transferred from the A-team to the C-team in May 2004. Her supervisor was Francisco Lanza.

Shortly after being placed with the C-team, plaintiff was exposed to inappropriate conversations and behavior. On May 13, 2004, a fellow team member, Scott Pousen, informed plaintiff that another team member, Justin Adams, had put his testicles on the testing table to "cool them off." (Def.'s Statement of Facts, Doc. Rec. No. 21-1, ¶ 9.) Plaintiff claims that team members Scott Pousen, Bob Allabaugh, and Eric Lybolt witnessed Adams' inappropriate behavior. (Pl.'s Statement of Facts, Doc. Rec. No. 27, ¶ 9.) She also claims that on May 14, 2004, Pousen informed Pete Romanchick - a "process coach" - and Jack Traver - a "machine leader" - about Adams' actions. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Later that month on May 22, 2004, Pousen and Adams informed the plaintiff that another employee, Drew Kline, had also cooled off his testicles in front of Pousen, Allabaugh, Lybolt, and Adams. The next incident occurred on June 7, 2004, and involved Bob Allabaugh exposing his testicles to plaintiff and commenting that he had shaved them the night before. Plaintiff claims Pousen and Adams were present during Allabaugh's indiscretion. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The next day, June 8, 2004, Allabaugh once again exposed his genitals to the plaintiff, this time while Adams and a temporary employee, Eric Lybolt, were present. Plaintiff admits that all of the employees that performed or witnessed these incidents - Pousen, Allabaugh, Adams and Lybolt - were non-supervisory employees. Plaintiff does claim, however, that Romanchick and Traver - the two employees who were informed of Adams' May 13th inappropriate behavior - qualify as supervisory employees because of their respective "process coach" and "machine leader" titles. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 12.)

Shortly after being removed from the C-team because of a physical injury, plaintiff reported the above incidents to the defendant through a senior-level paper manager named Regina Gray, and to a human resources manager named Linda Sheehan. In addition to the incidents described above, plaintiff reported that Pousen, Allabaugh, and Adams were looking at pornography on the computer, that Adams brought dirty books into work and kept them at work, and that Adams had asked a couple of temporary female employees about giving "blow jobs." (Def.'s Statement of Facts, Doc. Rec. No. 21-1, ¶ 19.) Plaintiff reported all of this to Gray and Sheehan on June 30, 2004, and on that same day defendant launched an investigation into plaintiff's allegations. Defendant's investigation included interviews with Pousen, Allabaugh, Adams, Traver, and Lybolt, but according to plaintiff did not include interviews with Romanchick or Kline. Plaintiff also asserts that the team leader, Kim Goodshall, was not interviewed. All of the witnesses interviewed denied witnessing or engaging in any incidents of indecent exposure. Adams did admit, however, that he made sexually explicit remarks to the two temporary employees.

After completing the investigation, the defendant found that all of the team members, including the plaintiff, were guilty of using inappropriate language. The defendant further found that Adams had inappropriately made sexually explicit remarks to two temporary female employees, and that Allabaugh had sent to several fellow employees an email that included pictures of women's breasts. As a result of this investigation, Allabaugh was disciplined by being placed on Step IV discipline (which is one step away from termination).*fn1 He was also required to develop a written improvement plan, and required to give a seminar to various teams of employees on sexual harassment.*fn2 Several employees who received the inappropriate email but did not report it were given warnings.*fn3 Finally, all members of the team, including plaintiff, were given warnings because defendant found all had used inappropriate language.

After the investigation, plaintiff alleges that her friendly co-workers began avoiding her, and that she experienced one other incident that could be rightly considered "hostile." In September 2004, another employee not part of the C-team, Rich Spencer, flipped his middle finger in plaintiff's face while she was assigned by the defendant to take Spencer's picture. He also extended his fingers over his head in an attempt to mimic horns. Traver, who was ...

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