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Kristen Petril v. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

April 29, 2011


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


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Kristen Petril ("Plaintiff") brings suit against her employer, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania ("Defendant"), for "hostile environment" sexual harassment and retaliation, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq., as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) et seq. (hereinafter "Title VII"). Defendant now moves to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be denied.

II. Factual and Procedural History

Since January 1, 2004, Plaintiff has been employed by Defendant as a campus police officer. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. Beginning in April 2008, Plaintiff's co-worker, police officer Franco Robinson ("Robinson"), began making unwanted sexual advances, including asking Plaintiff to go out with him and calling Plaintiff "sexy." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-13. On June 15, 2008, Robinson approached Plaintiff when she was alone in the locker room, rubbed Plaintiff's shoulders, and asked Plaintiff to "[l]et me hit it." Am. Compl. ¶ 14. When Plaintiff refused, Robinson said, "Come on, let me fuck you real quick. No one will know, all the cameras are down." Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Plaintiff refused and escaped when another female officer entered the locker room. Am. Compl. ¶ 15.

Plaintiff immediately reported the incident to Sergeant DeVore ("DeVore"), who responded that he "would take care of it." Am. Compl. ¶ 15. DeVore and Robinson are longtime acquaintances. Am. Compl. ¶ 15. Later that day, Robinson followed Plaintiff to the gas station and chased her car as she drove away. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-17. On June 17, 2008, Plaintiff complained to DeVore a second time about Robinson's sexual harassment and told DeVore she was afraid to return to work. Am. Compl. ¶ 18. DeVore did not prepare a written report of Plaintiff's allegations, and Defendant did not investigate her complaint. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20.

On June 25, 2008, Plaintiff asked Interim Chief Laurence Lester ("Lester") for an update on her sexual harassment complaint. Am. Compl. ¶ 21. Lester later violated Defendant's sexual harassment reporting policy by e-mailing information regarding Plaintiff's complaint to uninterested parties. Am. Compl. ¶ 21. On June 30, 2008, Plaintiff became extremely frightened and was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Am. Compl. ¶ 22. On July 5, 2008, Defendant placed Plaintiff on paid administrative leave to investigate her complaint of sexual harassment. Am. Compl. ¶ 23. During her leave, Plaintiff was treated for severe emotional distress and was medicated. Am. Compl. ¶ 24.

On August 28, 2008, Defendant's Human Resources Representative, Vicky Strong ("Strong"), told Plaintiff that she could not remain on paid administrative leave and was to return to work immediately. Am. Compl. ¶ 26. Plaintiff told Strong she could not return to work until Defendant took action on her sexual harassment complaint. Am. Compl. ¶ 26. Later that day, DeVore, who had been promoted to Police Chief, called Plaintiff and demanded that she return to work. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 25, 27. Plaintiff reported to work and was subjected to continued harassment by Robinson, including receiving inappropriate text messages, until Defendant later terminated Robinson's employment. Am. Compl. ¶ 28. Defendant deducted from Plaintiff's paychecks the sum she was paid while on administrative leave. Am. Compl. ¶ 29.

Plaintiff pursued her administrative remedies and was issued a Notice of Right to Sue on August 30, 2010. Am. Compl. ¶ 4. Plaintiff filed her Complaint (ECF No. 1) on November 18, 2010 and an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 7) on February 28, 2011. The Amended Complaint states one Count for violations of Title VII -- sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation. Plaintiff seeks damages for her loss of earnings, severe emotional and psychological distress, loss of self-esteem, loss of future earning power, back pay, front pay, and interest. Am. Compl. ¶ 33.

Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8) on March 10, 2011. Plaintiff filed her Response (ECF No. 11) on April 7, 2011, and Defendant replied on April 11, 2011 (ECF No. 12).

III. The Parties' Contentions

With respect to the hostile work environment claim, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff did not allege sufficiently severe or pervasive harassment. Defendant concedes that DeVore was Plaintiff's supervisor but contends that he was not a management-level employee and therefore Defendant cannot be held liable for his actions. Defendant argues that it took remedial action by suspending and firing Robinson. With respect to the retaliation claim, Defendant contends that requiring Plaintiff to refund her administrative leave pay was not an "adverse action," and that the timing does not suggest a causal link to Plaintiff's sexual harassment complaint.

Plaintiff responds that she pled sufficient facts to state a claim of pervasive, ongoing sexual harassment resulting in a hostile work environment. Plaintiff asserts that DeVore was her supervising officer and any questions of fact regarding his management-level status are not properly determined on a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff argues that Defendant failed to take any prompt and appropriate remedial measures after she complained of sexual harassment in June 2008, and that she suffered further harassment when she returned to work in August 2008. Further, Plaintiff contends that garnishing her wages was economic retaliation, and ...

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