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Jackson v. Hoopes Turf Farm

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 7, 2015

JEANNIE JACKSON Plaintiff,
v.
HOOPES TURF FARM Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

Pending before this Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 25) filed by Defendant Hoopes Turf Farm. The motion seeks to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for hostile environment sexual harassment and gender discrimination, Title VII retaliation, and discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (hereinafter, the "PHRA").[1] The matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition. In accordance with the following reasoning, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part. With respect to Plaintiff's claims for hostile environment sexual harassment and gender discrimination, Defendant's motion is denied. With respect to Plaintiff's claim under the PHRA, to the extent it is based on those issues, Defendant's motion is denied. However, Defendant's motion is granted with respect to Plaintiff's claim for retaliation under Title VII, and that claim is dismissed. Consequently, to the extent Plaintiff's PHRA claim is based on her claim of retaliation, that count is similarly dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jeannie Jackson has brought this action alleging hostile environment sexual harassment, gender discrimination and unlawful retaliation for protected conduct under Title VII. She also alleges violations of the PHRA. Many of the facts underlying these claims are disputed, and the parties particularly disagree on the interpretation of those facts; the Court will therefore give credence to the evidence favoring the Plaintiff, as the nonmovant, as long as that evidence is properly supported, and will acknowledge Defendant's version of the facts when relevant to the instant motion. See infra, Section II.

For all times relevant to this case, Plaintiff was employed as a driver by Defendant Hoopes Turf Farm, a trucking company. Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 1, June 23, 2014, ECF No. 27 (hereinafter "Def.'s SOF"). The instant action relates to a series of sexually harassing actions taken towards Plaintiff on the part of her employer's owner, Preston Hoopes. The timeline of the alleged conduct is not entirely clear to the Court; however, the relevant conduct generally occurred between December 2009, when the harassment began, and January 2011, when Plaintiff was terminated from her employment at Hoopes Turf Farm.

As one of the only female employees at Hoopes Turf Farm, Plaintiff alleges that she first began to feel uncomfortable during the Christmas party held by the company in December 2009. Pl.'s Counter Statement of Facts ¶ 21, July 31, 2014, ECF No. 32 (hereinafter "Pl.'s Counter SOF"); Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 6, July 31, 2014, ECF No. 31 (hereinafter "Pl.'s SOF"). At that party, Plaintiff was outside smoking with several other people when Mr. Hoopes asked everyone to come inside for a speech. Def.'s SOF ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that while he was talking to the group he was staring at her crotch. Id at ¶ 9.

Sometime thereafter[2], Plaintiff needed help fairly late in the evening in getting a king pin released from her truck so she contacted Mr. Hoopes and asked for his assistance. Id at ¶ 10. When he arrived, but before exiting his vehicle, Mr. Hoopes made two "wolf calls, " which made Plaintiff uncomfortable. Id at ¶ 11. A third incident occurred after an unspecified amount of time, in which Mr. Hoopes asked Plaintiff if she would stay the night at his house when her car would not start.[3] Id at ¶ 13. There is a dispute of fact as to whether Mr. Hoopes' wife was home at the time he asked Plaintiff to stay the night and as to whether Mr. Hoopes alluded to that fact in his invitation to Plaintiff. Id at ¶ 14; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 14.[4] When Plaintiff choose not to stay the night, Mr. Hoopes lent her his wife's car to drive. Def.'s SOF ¶ 15.

On March 26, 2010, Mr. Hoopes called Plaintiff and asked her to polish a semi-truck used in the business which she agreed to do. Id at ¶ 16. While she was polishing the truck, Mr. Hoopes began to help her and talked to her about inappropriate topics. Id at ¶ 17. Specifically, Mr. Hoopes talked about sex with his wife before they got married, as well as catching his father in the bathroom at their house with his wife's mother. Id. Mr. Hoopes, however, denies making any inappropriate comments to Plaintiff while she was polishing the truck. Pl.'s Counter SOF ¶ 26.

Less than a month later, on April 11, 2010, Mr. Hoopes insisted that Plaintiff ride in the front with him on the way back from a job because "he did not want to look at Parsell's ugly mug." Def.'s SOF ¶ 18; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 18.[5] Finally, at another point in time, as Mr. Hoopes was demonstrating to Plaintiff how to use a new dump truck, his crotch touched her left hand, which was resting upon her left knee, and after that Plaintiff moved her hand away. Def.'s SOF ¶ 19.

Sometime in mid-July 2010, Plaintiff complained several times to Mr. Hoopes that she was uncomfortable with the way he was acting towards her. Id at ¶ 20; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 20. Because Hoopes Turf Farm did not have a human resources department during the time in which Plaintiff was employed by the company, she had no recourse but to go directly to Mr. Hoopes with her complaints. Pl.'s Counter SOF ¶ 13-15. After that, Plaintiff testified that things both at work and between her and Mr. Hoopes changed "majorly." Id at ¶ 21. She alleges that she was treated unfavorably at work in a variety of ways. Specifically, she claims that there were several instances when she would get called into work even though she had taken personal time, and that she would request time off but never hear back about that request. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 25; Def.'s SOF ¶ 28. Moreover, she alleges that jobs were cancelled without notice to her, so that she would necessarily drive into work before being informed that the job was cancelled and she would not be paid for that time. Def.'s SOF ¶ 28-29.

Plaintiff alleges several other retaliatory actions taken in response to her complaint regarding Mr. Hoopes' sexually harassing behavior. For one, Plaintiff's transmission broke in August 2010 and she had to wait four hours for the garage person to pick her up; however, she was not paid for that four hours of waiting time. Id at ¶ 26; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 26. Additionally, there was one incident in which Plaintiff spoke with Robin Vetter, Defendant's dispatcher, about getting a hotel room when she was on a job like two other drivers were able to do, but after alleging that she had to discuss it with Mr. Hoopes, Ms. Vetter never got back to Plaintiff on that issue. Def.'s SOF ¶ 27.

Another incident occurred when Plaintiff asked Mr. Hoopes for a letter of recommendation because she wished to change jobs due to the way she was being treated at work. Id at ¶ 30; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 30. Mr. Hoopes told her that he would not write her a letter of recommendation because he did not do that, but that she could have a prospective employer call him. Def.'s SOF ¶ 31. She also alleges retaliation in that Mr. Hoopes had called out five trucks to work a job but did not call out Plaintiff to do that job. Id ¶ 32. At yet another time, Mr. Hoopes asked Plaintiff to drive a roller truck in Coudersport, but the location he had given her was incorrect and she was required to contact Mr. Hoopes to determine the correct location of the job. Id at ¶ 33. There was also an incident in which the pump on Plaintiff's assigned truck kept freezing. When she requested to switch out the truck so that the pump could thaw in the garage, Mr. Hoopes responded that she should keep her truck running and that she should not call him back if it was not something important. Id at 34-35.

Finally, there is also at issue in this case the existence of several voicemails left for Plaintiff by Mr. Hoopes in which he calls her "beauty" and "sleeping beauty, " and tells her that she is playing "hard to get" and that "nobody can touch ya." Pl.'s Counter SOF ¶ 1-5. The Court is unsure chronologically when these voicemails were left on Plaintiff's phone, whether before she complained to Mr. Hoopes of his conduct towards her, or after.

On January 10, 2011, Plaintiff was terminated from her position with Hoopes Turf Farm. Def.'s SOF ¶ 39. Her termination took place the day after an incident in which the brakes on Plaintiff's assigned truck caught fire. Id at ¶ 36. When she called Mr. Hoopes to tell him about it, he told her that she must have had the spike brake on, although she responded that she never used the spike break. Id. Several reasons were given for her termination, in addition to the incident just described. For one, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff ran a new truck into a ditch and thereby incurred significant costs of repair, although Plaintiff denies having done this. Id at ¶42; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 42. As another reason, Defendant contends that Plaintiff ran her truck into a building and bent the ladder; however, Plaintiff denies this and claims that she merely tapped an exhaust fan with her truck ladder. Def.'s SOF ¶ 43; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 43. Finally, Defendants asserts that Plaintiff damaged a tool box on a company truck when she was making a turn and hit an abutment placed there by another company, although Plaintiff ...


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