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Knoll v. City of Allentown

December 4, 2008

TERA KNOLL, PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF ALLENTOWN, DEFENDANT



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

MEMORANDUM

Tera Knoll complains that her civil rights were violated when she was harassed during her employment with the city of Allentown because she is a woman. She also alleges that after she asserted her rights, Allentown retaliated by demoting her, paying her less, harassing, and eventually discharging her. After she filed this lawsuit, Allentown moved to dismiss her complaint (Document #2). For the reasons that follow, I will deny Allentown's motion.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Allentown hired Knoll in 1996. Knoll worked for Allentown for almost ten years (the last 4 years in the parks department) until she was fired on April 5, 2006 for tape-recording a conversation with her supervisors about her harassment.

A. Workplace Harassment

1. Harassment by Male Co-Workers

Just over a year before she was fired, Knoll began to be harassed by her male co-workers because she is a woman. During that year, a male co-worker, Mike Lutte, told Knoll that "her voice was disgusting and she was no longer allowed to laugh." Compl. ¶ 8. A week later, Lutte (who had a "habit of driving dangerously close" to Knoll in the parking lot) "came so close [to her] that the side view mirror of his vehicle brushed against [her] coat and she was spun around by the force." Compl. ¶ 9. Lutte also called Knoll a bitch "on many dates" including on six specified dates in the spring of 2005. Compl. ¶ 11. On June 29, 2005, Lutte "jabbed [Knoll] twice in the knees with a tool" because (she believes) he "was trying to trip her." Compl. ¶ 14. When Knoll complained about this incident to her supervisor, a man named Bruce Solt, he told her "there was nothing that could be done." Id. Lutte's actions, however, were so threatening to Knoll that she sometimes hid in the carpenter's shop to wait for him to leave. On June 29, 2005 (the same day on which she complained to the supervisor about Lutte jabbing her with a tool), Lutte and another co-worker locked Knoll in the carpenter shop and "dragged a sofa in front of the door" so she could not leave that room. Compl. ¶ 15. On October 4, 2005, Lutte told Knoll, "You'd better hurry to your car before you get run over." Compl. ¶ 16.

Another male co-worker, Christian Blanco, "made degrading comments about women" in Knoll's presence, "played violent music in his vehicle about killing and raping women" and made Knoll "very uncomfortable." Compl. ¶ 10.

One day, when an orange traffic cone became stuck under her car, Knoll tossed it aside but the cone accidentally struck a vehicle that belonged to another male co-worker, Phil Janenko. Janenko then followed Knoll "into the locker area, and threatened physical violence against [her] for touching his car." Compl. ¶ 12.

2. Discrimination in her Job

In February or March 2005, Knoll was promoted from a Maintenance Worker I position to a Maintenance Worker II position. Seven or eight months later (on October 10, 2005), Knoll was demoted back to Maintenance Worker I. Solt told Knoll that she was demoted "because the males did not want to work with her and she was constantly arguing with other employees." Compl. ¶ 35.

During her months as a Maintenance Worker II, Knoll was informed (around April 2005) that she "would have to pay for going to tree climbing school on her own." Compl. ¶ 28. This was a surprise to Knoll for several reasons. First, tree climbing is an essential job function for the Maintenance Worker II position, according to Allentown's job description. Second, Allentown's contract with the union states that Allentown "will reimburse an employee for job-related education." Compl. ¶ 6. Finally, Allentown had paid for tree climbing school for men who were Maintenance Worker IIs.

On April 5, 2006, Knoll was fired. Sonya Stevens, Allentown's director of human resources, informed her that the reason for the firing was that Knoll had recorded her conversation about her ...


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