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Kacian v. Donahoe

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 27, 2015

PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant.


KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This matter comes before the Court upon consideration of Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff, Hillary A. Kacian ("Kacian") filed a complaint pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that agents of the Defendant subjected her to unwelcomed sexual harassment and ultimately terminated her in retaliation for reporting this conduct. (ECF No. 1 at 1). Defendant now brings a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to find that Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of retaliation, and that Plaintiff was terminated based upon a serious safety infraction. (ECF No. 38 at 1-2).

For the reasons given below, and in consideration of the prevailing law, the Court will grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

II. Jurisdiction

The Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because Plaintiff's Title VII claim arises under the laws of the United States. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1), (2) because both Defendant resides within the district and a substantial portion of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in this judicial district.

III. Background

a. Procedural

The underlying complaint was filed in this Court on May 16, 2012. (ECF No. 1). Defendant filed a previous motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 25), alleging that suit in this Court should be barred because Plaintiff had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. The Court denied that motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 36). The Defendant has now filed the instant motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 37), and the motion is ripe for disposition.

b. Factual

Plaintiff asserts that certain facts set out in Defendant's statement of undisputed material fact are, in fact, disputed. (ECF No. 40 at 1). The Court will set out the facts that are undisputed by the parties.

Plaintiff Hillary Kacian ("Kacian") is a 28-year-old female from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, who was hired by the Postal Service on March 29, 2008, as a City Carrier (Transitional Employee ("TE")) with a duty station located at the Johnstown Post Office. (ECF No. 39 at ¶¶ 1, 3). Kacian testified that TEs are hired pursuant to one-year contracts that could be renewed each year, and that each year she would get laid off for five days and then rehired under another one-year contract. (Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5). Kacian worked continuously at the Postal Service from March 2008 through August 2011, aside from these short layoffs. (Id. at ¶ 6). Kacian was a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers Union which entitled her to union representation. (Id. at ¶ 7). Kacian received a three-day training course prior to operating a postal vehicle, which was part of her city carrier duties and made her aware of all the safety rules, including driving with a seat belt, driving without distractions, and driving with the vehicle's door closed. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 8-9).

Kacian was involved in at least four accidents during her postal career. (Id. at ¶ 10). On June 27, 2008, Kacian failed to check her clearances and backed her postal vehicle into a privately owned vehicle on Rosewood Street. She was determined to be at fault. (Id. at ¶ 11). On January 17, 2009, Kacian's postal vehicle was struck by a privately owned vehicle that failed to stop at a red light and ran through an intersection. She was not determined to be at fault. (Id. at ¶ 15). On January 9, 2010, Kacian's postal vehicle was legally parked when it was struck by a snowplow truck that failed to check clearances while backing up. Kacian was not at fault. (Id. at ¶ 16). On December 7, 2010, Kacian sprained her ankle after slipping on icy steps during a home delivery on her carrier route. (Id. at ¶ 17).

Kacian alleges that she was a victim of sexual harassment while working for the Postal Service. She listed all of the acts of sexual harassment that form the basis of her claim in an interrogatory response. (Id. at ¶ 18). The allegations are as follows:

George LaRue
• He asked Ms. Kacian for a copy of a picture of her in a white bikini. When she refused, he repeatedly hounded her for the picture until she was forced to rebuke him in an overt fashion.
• When Ms. Kacian [had] a cold sore, he made a sexual reference to her having herpes.
• On one occasion when she told a fellow carrier that her knee hurt, he made a sexual reference to her about staying off her knees.
• He harassed Ms. Kacian about the length of her shorts even though her shorts were a full inch and a half longer than required.
• He often made comments about her need to lose weight.
• He often assigned Ms. Kacian more work than she could handle. Ms. Kacian avers that this was a result of her refusal to provide him with pictures of her in a bikini.

(Id.). Sometime in April 2010, Kacian brought pictures to work from her vacation to Las Vegas, one of which depicted her in a white bikini. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20). Kacian showed these pictures to at least five work colleagues that included both males and females. (Id. at ¶ 21). According to Kacian's testimony, George LaRue ("LaRue") looked at them and, while referencing the bikini picture, allegedly stated: "I like this picture, you should get me a copy of that." (Id. at ¶ 24). She stated that she initially "just laughed and was, like, whatever. I just didn't think anything about it." (Id. at ¶ 25). According to Kacian, LaRue asked her for a copy of the picture two more times before the incident ended. (Id. at ¶ 26). She did not immediately bring this incident to the attention of any supervisor within the Postal Service. (Id. at ¶ 27).

Kacian testified that she reported to work a couple of weeks later with a cold sore on her lip, and that LaRue looked at her and said "Oh, looks like you got something on your lip. You might want to get that checked out." (Id. at ¶¶ 28-29). Kacian "just ignored him and walked away." (Id. at ¶ 30). She testified that LaRue never used the word "herpes" and did not make any additional comments about the cold sore. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). Further, Kacian testified that she did not immediately bring this incident to the attention of any supervisor within the Postal Service. (Id. at ¶ 33).

During the summer of 2010, Kacian testified that she fell while delivering mail and scraped her knee. (Id. at ¶ 34). She alleges that LaRue laughed and stated "[s]omething along the lines of I should stay off my knees." (Id. at ¶ 35). Kacian testified that she took the statement to be a sexual comment because of the manner in which he said it and the fact that he was laughing about it. (Id. at ¶ 36). She stated that the comment was made by the time clock and that a "whole bunch of people" were present when the comment was made. (Id. at ¶ 37).

Sometime during the summer of 2010, Kacian was approached by a female carrier, Melissa, regarding the length of her shorts. (Id. at ¶¶ 40, 44). Kacian became "very upset, " and told her that if LaRue had a problem with her shorts being regulation, she should have been told by him or another supervisor that they were not regulation. (Id. at ¶ 40). LaRue later approached Kacian and asked if Melissa had spoken to her about her shorts, to which Kacian responded "[y]eah and they're regulation, and if you had a problem with them, then you should have said something or had someone say something to me. And then that was the end of that." (Id. at ¶ 41). ...

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