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Brown-Baumbach v. B & B Automotive

July 6, 2010

SANDRA BROWN-BAUMBACH
v.
B & B AUTOMOTIVE, INC.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant B&B Automotive, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 23.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Sandra Brown-Baumbach began working for B&B Automotive on May 5, 2008. (Doc. No. 24 Ex. A at 8 [hereinafter Pl.'s Dep.].) Approximately four months later, she terminated her employment with B&B Automotive and filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. After receiving a right to sue letter, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint, alleging one count entitled "Sexual Harassment/Gender Discrimination" and one count entitled "Retaliation," both under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Compl. ¶¶ 63-69.) In discussing the background of the case, we will review the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff as the nonmoving party and resolve all factual disputes in her favor. See Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074, 1077 n.1 (3d Cir. 1996) ("We resolve all factual doubts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of [the plaintiffs], the nonmoving parties." (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986))).

B&B Automotive is a car lot. Plaintiff was hired as an assistant business manager responsible for loan financing. (See Pl.'s Dep. at 10-11.) She started working at a salary of five hundred dollars a week plus a twenty-five dollar commission for every contract that she completed. (Id. at 8-9.) Two weeks after she started, she was promoted, and her salary was increased to six hundred dollars a week plus a thirty-five dollars commission for every contract she completed. (Id. at 11.) The owner of B&B Automotive, Michael Brill, was Plaintiff's boss. He hired Plaintiff and reviewed her work. (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff was also supervised by Frank Beyer, who was responsible for training her. (See id. at 84.) In addition to Brill and Beyer, Plaintiff's job responsibilities required her to interact regularly with several other employees.

Plaintiff complains that over the four months she worked at B&B Automotive she was subjected to humiliating, degrading, and discriminatory conduct. The conduct can be grouped into three categories: (1) sexual comments, jokes, rumors, and innuendo; (2) gender-based discrimination or animus; and (3) retaliation. The sexual comments, jokes, rumors, and innuendo began shortly after Plaintiff started her employment. During Plaintiff's first week, she witnessed a B&B Automotive employee, Larry Knorr, tell a female customer that he would like to take her dancing. Knorr stated to the customer, "Don't worry, I swing both ways." (Id. at 58.) The customer ignored the comment. Plaintiff thought the customer seemed uncomfortable. (Id. at 60-61.) The incident offended Plaintiff, and she reported it to Brill. He fired Knorr, who had a history of making inappropriate comments. (Id. at 62-63.) As a result of Knorr being fired, Plaintiff was promoted. (Id. at 62.)

Some time later, Plaintiff and another employee, Joe Nasito, became the subject of a workplace rumor that they were sleeping together. (See id. at 94-110.) Plaintiff firmly denies that she and Nasito had a romantic relationship and maintains that they were just friends. (Id. at 100.) Plaintiff drove Nasito to work and they sometimes had lunch together. (Id.) They often discussed the relationship problems that Plaintiff was experiencing in her marriage and the problems that Nasito was experiencing with his ex-wife. (Id. at 101.) One day at lunch, Nasito attempted to kiss Plaintiff in public. Plaintiff did not reciprocate and later informed her husband of what had happened. (See id.) Plaintiff and Nasito also saw each other outside of work. On one occasion, Plaintiff picked Nasito up at a bar after work because he was too drunk to drive home. On another occasion, Nasito accompanied Plaintiff and friends to a tanning salon. (Id. at 104, 106.) It is unclear whether any B&B Automotive employees were aware of Plaintiff and Nasito's contact outside of work.

Plaintiff recalls that she first became aware of the rumor that she and Nasito were sleeping together when she "could hear people talking, snickering, laughing" about her and Nasito. (See id. at 93.) Nasito's supervisor directly addressed the rumor with Plaintiff, advising Plaintiff to "watch who [she] trust[ed], because people that [she] trust[ed] in the company... spread rumors, and it could... affect [her] employment...." (Id. at 94-97.) Nasito's supervisor told Plaintiff that Brill would not put up with "nonsense," by which she meant rumors going around. (Id. at 97.) Plaintiff reported this problem to Beyer, who told her that if she ignored the rumor, it would go away. (Id.) Not satisfied with Beyer's response, Plaintiff complained directly to Brill, who responded to the complaint by becoming angry. He told Plaintiff that perception was everything, and he explained to her that he would be concerned about what people thought of his daughter if she were driving a man back and forth from work. (See id. at 99.) Brill also told Plaintiff that if she wanted to "continue working for a Brill, [she] need[ed] to learn to be strong enough to work for a Brill." (Id.) He concluded by telling Plaintiff that he did not have time to deal with this "fucking nonsense," to "grow up and not be a crybaby," and to "get the fuck out of his office." (See Compl. ¶¶ 25-26; Pl.'s Dep. at 51, 99, 112, 188.) Plaintiff went back to work, and did not raise the issue again.

In July 2008, Plaintiff was involved in another unrelated incident in which she became the butt of a joke. It was a warm summer day and everyone in the office agreed to take a break for ice cream. As the most junior person in the office, Plaintiff was chosen to go to the store. (Pl.'s Dep. at 116-17.) Another employee, an elderly man named Charlie who was a sort of office factotum, was chosen to drive Plaintiff to the store because Plaintiff could not carry all the ice cream by herself. (Id. at 115.) Plaintiff and Charlie drove to the store and Plaintiff purchased ice cream for her co-workers. After she got back into the car, Charlie pulled out of the store's parking lot quickly, causing Plaintiff to spill ice cream on her dress. (Id. at 118.) Charlie thought the spill was funny and laughed all the way back to the car lot. (Id.) When they arrived, Plaintiff apologized about the spilled ice cream to her co-workers and went to the bathroom to clean herself off. (Id. at 120.) As Plaintiff was making her way to the bathroom, Charlie cracked a joke that "he made [Plaintiff] so excited that he creamed [her] pants." (Id. at 119; see also Compl. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff did not hear whether the joke elicited any response from her co-workers. (See Pl.'s Dep. at 120.) No supervisors were present when the joke was told, and Plaintiff was permitted to go home and change her clothes. (See id. at 119-20.)

Plaintiff was subjected to sexual conversation or innuendo on several other occasions. On another day in July, all the B&B Automotive employees gathered at a diner for an employee meeting. (Id. 126-27.) During the meeting, Beyer's secretary was instructed to screen Beyer's calls so he could focus on his work. The secretary replied, "So I have permission to tell [Beyer's] wife that [he] is getting busy or he's too busy to have to call her because he and [Plaintiff] are behind closed doors." (Id. at 127.) All the employees who were present heard the comment. Plaintiff later complained of the comment to Beyer, who told her to "ignore the cattiness that was going on in the office." (See id.) Beyer himself also engaged in activity that Plaintiff found inappropriate and offensive. One day, he sent Tim Martin, the manager of B&B Automotive's second location, a text message asking, "Is [Plaintiff] wearing underwear?" (Id. at 131.) Martin showed the message to Plaintiff, and used it to try to convince her to come to work at his location. (Id. at 132.) He told her that his location was "very quiet and calm" and that he needed "an attractive woman" there to help close deals. (Id.) On another occasion, when Plaintiff's cousin was looking for work, Tim Martin told Plaintiff that if her cousin "was attractive and wore heels, she would automatically get hired." (Id. at 136.) One day when Plaintiff and Beyer were working together, a customer who was an exotic dancer came into the store. (See id. at 138-40.) When the woman walked in, Beyer said to Plaintiff, "Heels really turn me on. What do you think she has in the trunk?" (Id. at 139.) The customer, who was unaware of the comment, purchased a car, and Beyer helped her move her belongings from her old car to her new car. (See id.) As he was moving the customer's "stripper heels," he showed them to Plaintiff and said, "look, these are what turn me on." (Id.)

Not all of the conduct that Plaintiff found objectionable was sexual in nature. During Plaintiff's second or third week on the job, a co-worker informed her of a rumor that one of their colleagues, Theresa Martin, disliked working with other women and that she had a tendency to get women fired. (Id. at 63; see also Compl. ¶¶ 19-20.) Theresa Martin handled the title work at B&B Automotive, and Plaintiff had to interact with her periodically. (Pl.'s Dep. at 65.) If Plaintiff made a mistake in her paperwork, Theresa Martin would throw the papers on the floor, ignore Plaintiff, and fix the mistakes after Plaintiff was gone. (Id. at 66-67.) According to Plaintiff, Theresa Martin treated the other female B&B Automotive employees in the same way. (Id. at 68.) Plaintiff believes that Theresa Martin started the rumor about Plaintiff sleeping with Joe Nasito, but at her deposition, she could not provide a basis for that belief other than that "it was a very small office and everyone talks." (Id. at 93.) Theresa Martin did not supervise Plaintiff, and the record does not indicate that her rudeness or intolerance of mistakes resulted in Plaintiff being disciplined.

As with the conduct of Larry Knorr and the rumor about Joe Nasito, Plaintiff complained to Brill about working with Theresa Martin. In fact, she did so on several occasions. (See id. at 73-75.) Plaintiff recalled with specificity during her deposition that Brill responded to her complaint in the same way as he did when Plaintiff brought the rumor to his attention and not like how he responded to the Larry Knorr incident. He became angry and told her that he "did not have time for this fucking nonsense, [and] to get the fuck out of his office." (Id. at 76.) This exchange was indicative of how Plaintiff's relationship with Brill worsened over her time at B&B Automotive. Some days he would praise her work, telling her she did a great job. (See id. at 109; Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 3 at fax page 20.) Others days he would be cold or rude to her, though he never disciplined her or gave her an unsatisfactory job evaluation. (See Pl.'s Dep. at 109.) The record indicates that he had a similarly tumultuous relationship with many employees. Indeed, Plaintiff believes that Brill "mentally assault[ed]" all of his employees. (Id. at 174.) Plaintiff's responses to an EEOC questionnaire contain an example involving Tim Roczey, who worked at B&B Automotive as a mechanic. (Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 3 at fax page 25.) Roczey resigned in September 2008 after a dispute with Brill. (See Pl.'s Dep. at 175.) On the day he resigned, he came to work to collect his belongings, and when Brill saw him, he became angry and yelled at him. Plaintiff witnessed this encounter, and she indicated that she had never seen "a more volatile reaction from an employer. The anger he displayed was nothing less than rage, the language was nothing less than abusive." (Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 3 at fax page 25.) According to Plaintiff, she was "fearful for Tim but also for [herself]" because Brill knew she had attended a picnic at Roczey's house. (See id.)

In addition to calling her complaints about the rumors and Theresa Martin nonsense, Brill yelled at Plaintiff when another employee and Theresa Martin got in a fight and Plaintiff interceded. (See Pl.'s Dep. at 153-60.) The employee believed that Theresa Martin had been speaking unfavorably of her to Brill, and the employee became upset and unable to work because she was worried that she was going to lose her job. (Id. at 153-55.) The employee called Brill at home to discuss the matter with him, and after a conversation in which the employee began to cry, Brill hung up on her. (Id. at 157-58.) Another office phone rang moments later, and Plaintiff picked it up, saying "B&B Automotive, [Plaintiff] speaking, how may I help you?" (Id. at 158.) Brill was on the other end of the line, and as soon as Plaintiff stopped speaking, he yelled, "You motherfucking bitch," and told Plaintiff that if she wanted to keep her job, she should go back to her desk and work, otherwise, she could pack her "fucking shit up and leave." (Id. at 158-60.) The next day, Brill called Plaintiff into his office and asked why she was so glum. (Id. at 161.) She told him that she found his language of the previous day very offensive and that she had not had anything to do with the dispute.*fn1 (Id. at 161, 164.) He apologized to Plaintiff and told her that he was in the wrong and that he was working on his anger management. (Id. at 164.) He also told Plaintiff that Theresa Martin was a very valuable employee, that he would not tolerate crying in the office, and that anyone who cried would be fired. (See id. at 162-63, 169.)

Plaintiff's relationship with Brill deteriorated further in July 2008 when Brill became angry with Plaintiff several times in what Plaintiff believes was retaliation for her previous workplace complaints. That month, B&B Automotive was being audited, and an auditor discovered that a customer had relied on an expired driver's license in his contract with B&B Automotive, which meant that the transaction was faulty and the vehicle would have to be repossessed. (See id. at 78, 81, 145-46.) Frank Beyer had completed the contract on his own, but Brill blamed Plaintiff for the mistake. (See id. at 78, 146.) According to Plaintiff, Brill "came charging across the desk" at her; he was red in the face and screaming at Plaintiff from about six inches away. (Id. at 78-79.) For several weeks, until the truck was finally repossessed, Brill would ask Plaintiff, "Where is my truck at?" (Id. at 80, 191.) Brill took no disciplinary or other formal employment action against Plaintiff, such as giving her an unsatisfactory job evaluation, but he would "scream" at her and use "very hostile language." (Id. at 145.) He also told her that she was emotionally unstable. (Id. at 77.) The frequent questioning caused Plaintiff a great deal of stress, to the point where she would make herself vomit each morning. (Id. at 82.)

Plaintiff quit her job at B&B Automotive in September 2008 soon after Brill yelled at Tim Roczey. What happened on the day that she quit is unclear. It appears that Plaintiff and Brill were engaged in a dispute about B&B Automotive's obligation to repair a truck that Plaintiff had purchased from B&B Automotive. (See id. at 181, 193.) On September 15, 2008, Plaintiff's husband came to the car lot to bring her a sweater. (Id. 169-70.) When he was leaving, Plaintiff removed parts for the truck from B&B Automotive's garage and put them in her husband's car. (Id. at 170.) About an hour later, Brill "screamed [Plaintiff's] name over the loudspeaker," and Plaintiff went to his office, where he "screamed at [her] that he [had] not allow[ed] [her] to remove any parts from his building." (Id.) Brill "charged... across the desk" at Plaintiff.

Plaintiff was afraid she would be assaulted, and she fled the premises and called the police. (Id. at 171, 175.) When a police officer arrived, Plaintiff explained the situation to him, and he escorted her into B&B Automotive to collect her belongings. (Id. 177-78.) The police officer later filed a report, which states in pertinent part: "Complainant says that below male [Brill] wants the vehicle back that he sold to her. Complainant is concerned with receiving the rest of her pay check from business.... Complainant says she will contact her attorney today." (Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 6.) Plaintiff quit as a result of this incident, and she and B&B Automotive are currently litigating the dispute regarding the vehicle ...


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