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Laurie Root v. Keystone Helicopter Corporation

January 18, 2011

LAURIE ROOT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
KEYSTONE HELICOPTER CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert F. Kelly, Sr. J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant Keystone Helicopter Corporation's ("Keystone") Motion for Summary Judgment against Plaintiff Laurie Root ("Root"). For the reasons set forth below, this Motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Keystone is in the business of building, repairing and overhauling commercial helicopters. Root was hired by Keystone on or about December 27, 2007, as a material handler to work in its Highlands facility. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C at 38-39.) Root was later transferred from the Highlands office to the heliplex warehouse. Root has filed a single claim of retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e- 3a. and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pennsylvania. Cons. Stat. § 955. Root claims that her employment with Keystone was terminated because she made an earlier complaint against a co-worker for using inappropriate sexual language in the workplace. Root avers in her Complaint that she overheard a co-worker, Robert Watson ("Watson"), "using sexually-charged language concerning his penis size and other sexual things and reported him to her supervisor, Doug Larson." (Compl. ¶ 8.) Doug Larson ("Larson") is a warehouse manager at Keystone and Root's supervisor. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B at 31.) Larsen is a registered sexual offender who is listed on the Megan's Law website which, as will be explained infra, is relevant to this case. Root reported Watson's conduct to Larsen in late September 2009. This comported with Keystone's policy which allows an employee to report incidents of harassment or inappropriate language to either his or her supervisor or Human Resources ("HR"). Larsen did not report Root's complaint to HR. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B at 37-38.)

Larsen testified at his deposition that Root told him that she was having a difficult time working because of so much discussion involving sexual content in the workplace. Larsen stated that he told her that he would look into it and get back to her. (Id. at 36-37.) Larsen testified that later that day, or the next day, he had individual conversations with various people who work for him informing them to refrain from engaging in sexual conversations in the workplace. (Id.) After these conversations, Larsen stated that he went back to Root and told her that he went to the individual people and spoke to them, and that they responded that they would not engage in any such behavior. (Id.) Larsen further stated that Root thanked him and that he received no other complaints after that. Id.) Larsen added that he did not take Root's complaint to HR because he felt he had handled it.*fn1 (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B at 33-37.)

Watson testified at his deposition that Larsen called on the phone and told him that Root had complained that Watson and another employee named "Pela" were engaging in sexual conversation. According to Watson, he told Larsen "that would never happen with me," but he couldn't speak for Pela. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E at 9-10). Watson also stated to him "if anything is going on, to stop it." (Id.) Root testified at her deposition that after Larsen talked to Watson about her complaint, Larsen came to her later and said, "I talked to him about it and you are not going to be the favorite person around here for a while." (Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. L at 143.) Root also asserts that over the period of the next few weeks, Watson retaliated against her by trying to get her in trouble concerning her work performance. (Id.)

Approximately three weeks after Root reported Watson to Larsen, Watson informed Larsen that Root had been spreading rumors about Larsen having sex with a nine-year-old boy. (Id.) Watson testified that the incident that provoked him to report Root to Larsen was that an employee named Jeffrey Dawkins ("Dawkins") mentioned to him that Larsen was on the news for molesting children. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E at 14.) During his deposition, Watson identified Dawkins as follow:

Jeffrey Dawkins, he was hanger support and very friendly. He was actually the reason why I spoke to Doug [Larsen] about this. He came into the cage one day, approached me. And he said - he said, Rob, he said, what is this about your boss being on the news about molesting little kids? And I said on the news? And he saw the look on my face. And he just clammed up right after that.

And soon after that, well, he got called away. But I thought, you know, this is really getting out of hand. You know, this woman is going to hurt someone, you know, or cause something to happen with all of these, this gossip going on. It wasn't - that was obviously the worst, there was - she was spreading all sorts of gossip. (Id.) Watson testified that it was after this conversation with Dawkins that he called Larsen and identified Root as the source of the rumors about him.*fn2 Watson also testified that he had observed Root at least twice in his presence pull up the Megan's Law website on a work computer, and that Root said to him "you know, you have to do something really bad to get on this site." (Id. at 18.) Watson stated that he asked Root what Larsen had done to get on the website, and she said Larsen had sex with a nine-year-old boy. (Id. at 18-19.)

Larsen testified that he immediately went to HR and reported it to HR Manager Ed Tomko ("Tomko"). (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B at 33.) Larsen told Tomko that he felt Root's behavior was "harassment" against him. (Id.) He also testified that he did not inform Tomko that Root reported Watson to him three weeks earlier for making sexual remarks in the workplace. (Id. at 35-36.)

After Larsen complained to him about Root, Tomko testified that he met with Watson who told him that Root had accessed Larsen's information/identity on the Megan's Law website several times, and shown it to others in the workplace. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. F at 31-32.)

Tomko also stated that he did not believe that Watson told him about anybody else pulling up the Megan's Law website in the workplace, but he did name a co-worker, Brigette Peifer ("Peifer"), as someone who witnessed Root's behavior. (Id.)

According to Root, Tomko did not interview her before her termination or ask her to make a statement. (Id.) Root asserts that Tomko called her into an office with himself and HR Assistant Bridget McAllister, and terminated her employment. (Id.) Root asserts that Tomko said to her that she had been "spreading the rumor that Doug Larsen had been f- ing 9-year old boys." (Pl.'s Resp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A at 3.) Root states that she vigorously denied this allegation, and attributed the comments to Watson. (Id. at 7.) Root asserts that Tomko then abruptly fired her. (Id.)

Tomko testified that, at the time he made his decision to terminate Root, his information consisted of the complaint from Larsen and two corroborating witnesses, Watson and Peifer. Tomko stated that his determination was based solely on the fact that he had enough evidence to corroborate what he considered insubordination on Root's part, and that this was the reason for her termination. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. ...


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