Title VII Sexual Harassment / Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment; Plaintiff Alleged 22 Incidents Over 1.5 Years

In Matthews v. Detroit Public Schools Community District, 2021 WL 4427176 (E.D.Mich., 2021), a Michigan federal court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s sexual harassment/hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Noting U.S. Supreme Court precedent that whether harassing conduct is sufficiently “severe or pervasive” – and, hence, actionable as a “hostile work environment” under Title VII – is not determinable by application of a “mathematically precise test”, the court explained why the facts here warranted a trial on the issue:

Matthews’s complaint and testimony detailed 22 incidents between November 2015 and May 2017 that she alleges constitute sexual harassment. She testified that the alleged harassment was not sporadic but rather ongoing during the time in which Dameron supervised her. Several of these incidents were explicitly sexual. For example, she testified that Dameron asked her to meet him at a hotel; told Matthews while miming oral sex, “I want to eat your big ass while you’re on your period if you still have those”; offered to help Matthews lose weight by having sex with her; and, while Matthews was eating potato soup, proclaimed that it “looks like Mona is eating cum.” She also testified that Dameron told her that he wanted her to have his address so she could “come over late one night”; told her he could tell by the way a woman walked that her “stuff is worn out” before stating to her, “I can tell by the way you walk you have good stuff”; and told Matthews and another coworker that a woman would be obligated to have sex with a man if the man took the woman to a specific restaurant on a date—and then asked Matthews if he could take her to that restaurant on a date. Moreover, all but four of the alleged incidents were directed at Matthews.

The Court finds that given the numerosity of the comments made over a year and a half, their continual nature, their explicit sexual nature, and the fact that they were most often targeted at Matthews, the totality of the circumstances indicates that, at a minimum, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the alleged harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive such that it altered the conditions of Matthews’s employment and created a hostile working environment.

[Citations omitted.]

As to whether the alleged harassment may be imputed to the defendant, the court found that “[b]ecause there is a factual issue as to whether Matthews suffered a tangible employment action, the affirmative defense based on Matthews’s alleged failure to promptly invoke [defendant]’s alleged sexual harassment policy cannot be a basis for summary judgment at this juncture.”

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