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Speed v. WES Health System

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 26, 2015

SHAMEKA SPEED, Plaintiff,
v.
WES HEALTH SYSTEM, Defendant

Page 352

For SHAMEEKA SPEED, Plaintiff: ADRIAN J. MOODY, LEAD ATTORNEY, MOODY & SHIELDS GROUP LLC., PHILADELPHIA, PA; ISAAC H. GREEN, LEAD ATTORNEY, GLENSIDE, PA.

For WES HEALTH SYSTEM, A CORPORATION, Defendant: CARLA P. MARESCA, LEAD ATTORNEY, DEASEY, MAHONEY, VALENTINI, NORTH LTD., PHILADELPHIA, PA; RUFUS A. JENNINGS, DEASEY, MAHONEY, VALENTINI & NORTH, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

OPINION

Page 353

Gerald Austin McHugh, United States District Court Judge.

This case concerns sexual harassment and retaliation claims, and raises an issue of first impression in this Circuit, one addressed by only a handful of federal courts: does an employee forfeit her retaliation rights under Title VII for physically defending herself against a sexual advance after an employer fails to take corrective measures about a hostile work environment? I am not prepared to hold as a matter of law that a woman who has endured one groping needs to endure a second in order to preserve her job. Because there is a plausible reading of the Second Amended Complaint from which a jury could conclude that Plaintiff was fired in retaliation for reporting her harassment, and because the altercation for which Ms. Speed was purportedly fired has to be evaluated in context, I will deny Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

I. Procedural Posture

This action is brought pursuant to Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ). Plaintiff Shameka Speed alleges that she was sexually harassed over the course of approximately thirteen (13) months, and Defendant failed to take any corrective measures despite oral and written notice of her harassment. Plaintiff further avers that Defendant's hostile work environment culminated in a direct physical advance by her alleged harasser, during which he groped her leg, and Plaintiff felt she had no choice but to defend herself. Defendant WES Health System (" WES" ) has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's federal and state retaliation claims, and characterizes the situation as a stand-alone workplace confrontation warranting Plaintiff's termination. WES argues that the larger context of ongoing sexual harassment is entirely irrelevant to Plaintiff's retaliation claims and maintains that its discharge of Plaintiff was inherently lawful because she admitted to striking a coworker.

II. Factual Overview

Plaintiff Shameka Speed was hired by Defendant WES Health System as a Behavioral Health Worker in February 2012. Sec. Am. Compl. at ¶ 11. She was assigned to John L. Kinney Junior High School. Id. Speed was supervised by Cornelius

Page 354

Edwards, Lead Clinician, who also supervised Macon Garway, the Clinical Coordinator (and Speed's alleged harasser). Id. at ¶ 12. Plaintiff claims her work was considered excellent, and she was well-qualified to perform the duties of her position. Id. at ¶ 13.

Speed alleges that Garway sexually harassed her at work over an approximately one year period, creating a hostile and oppressive work environment in which any reasonable female would have been detrimentally impacted and offended. Id. at ¶ 21. Of particular note in the context of this case, Ms. Speed is 5 ft. 8 in. tall and weighs approximately 135 lbs. Id. at ¶ 35. Mr. Garway is approximately 6 ft. 3 in. tall and weighs over 250 lbs. Id.

The harassment Plaintiff allegedly suffered was overtly sexual, anatomically specific, and crude. It is recounted here in detail because of Justice Breyer's reminder that in workplace retaliation cases, " [c]ontext matters." [1]

III. Facts Alleged in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint

Around May 2012, Garway began making sexually suggestive and lewd comments, gestures, and innuendoes toward Speed. Id. at ¶ 14. Almost on a daily basis, Garway made sexual remarks to Speed and suggested to her that they engage in sexual relations. Id. at ¶ 15. On some occasions, Garway made explicit sexual reference to Speed's body parts. Id. at ¶ 16. " For example, he would often point to private areas of her anatomy and remark that he 'wanted some of that' or 'why don't you give me some of that.' On several occasions, he would point to her genital area and refer to it as her 'cunt' or as 'Speed cunt.' On other occasions, he would point to his own genital areas and remark that he wanted to give her 'some of this.'" Second Amended Complaint at ¶ ¶ 17-19. Speed maintains she never encouraged this behavior in any way, but instead communicated to Garway that she found his conduct repugnant and offensive. Id., at ¶ 20.

By late November 2012, Garway's conduct escalated to a higher level of " repugnance and frequency." Id. at ¶ 22. Speed complained orally and in writing to her supervisor, Edwards. Id. at ¶ 23. In early December 2012, Garway often pointed to Speed's vaginal area and remarked that he wanted " some of that for Christmas" or that he wanted " some Speed cunt for Christmas." Id. at ¶ 24. In December 2012, Speed was in charge of the office Christmas Pollyanna. Id. at ¶ 25. When she approached Garway in connection with listing his gift choices, he stated, " what if I want that?" and pointed to her vaginal area. Id. at ¶ 26. On another occasion in December 2012, Garway wrote a purported list of Christmas presents that repeatedly used the word " cunt." Id. at ¶ 27. Also during December 2012, Garway pointed to Speed's breasts and said he wanted to " suck on those." Id. at ¶ 28.

Speed alleges that other female employees also complained about Garway's offensive and inappropriate remarks, and Defendant was therefore on notice that Garway required increased supervision. Id. at ¶ ¶ 29-30. After Speed complained to Edwards in late 2012, Defendant did not discharge Garway, separate him from

Page 355

working with Speed, or otherwise supervise him. Id. at ¶ 31. He continued to work in a position that placed him in close physical proximity to Speed. Id.

Moreover, although Edwards assured Speed that Garway was reprimanded, Edwards in fact did not respond in any way to Plaintiff's complaints of sexual harassment. Id. at ¶ 32. Speed further avers " upon information and belief" that Edwards failed to inform the Clinical Director about her harassment, " and, for his inaction, Edwards was given a written final warning." Id. at ¶ 33.

In April 2013, Garway made additional sexually suggestive and lewd remarks to Speed. Id. at ¶ 34. He also began touching and rubbing her. Id. at ¶ 36. Garway would intentionally walk close to Speed and rub his body against hers. Id. At this point, Speed feared imminent bodily harm whenever Garway made sexually suggestive remarks or approached her. Id. at 38.

On or about April 12, 2013, Garway rubbed his hands on Speed's legs. Id. at ¶ 39. She was offended, outraged, and humiliated. Id. at ¶ 40. Speed feared further offensive and unwanted physical contact, so she warned Garway not to touch her leg ever again or she would defend herself. Id. " Upon hearing that, Garway deliberately and intentionally reached out to touch the Plaintiff at which time, and for no other reason than to defend and protect herself, Plaintiff Speed struck Garway on the side of his face and he ceased his effort to touch her." Id. at ¶ 41.

Immediately after the April 12, 2013 incident, Speed again complained to Edwards. Id. at ¶ 42. Edwards responded, " 'if I (Edwards) have to write up Garway, I will also have to write you up,' even though he knew Plaintiff had been assaulted by Garway." Id. Plaintiff interpreted this comment to mean that Edwards would not truthfully report the situation, and his write-up would not reflect that Speed feared for her safety and bodily security and acted reflexively to protect herself. Id.

After investigating Speed's complaints, Defendant WES Health System determined that Garway had in fact sexually harassed Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 43. Based on the determination that Speed's complaints were founded, Garway's employment was terminated by Defendant on or about April 25, 2013. Id. On that same date, Defendant discharged Plaintiff as well, which she ...


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