Sexual Harassment Hostile Work Environment Claim Sufficiently Alleged, Holds Texas Court

In Karamatic v. Peyton Resource Group, L.P., No. 3:21-CV-02304-N, 2022 WL 2972222 (N.D.Tex. July 26, 2022), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged hostile work environment sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In concluding that plaintiff’s complaint adequately alleged actionable sexual harassment, the court explained:

According to PRG, Karamatic does not allege enough facts to show that she was subjected to actionable harassment for two reasons: (1) because she does not allege she was personally subject to conduct qualifying as unwelcome sexual harassment; and (2) because the alleged conduct merely constituted “offhand comments” that were not so severe or pervasive as to alter a term, condition, or privilege of Karamatic’s employment. The Court disagrees on both points.

PRG contends that Karamatic does not allege facts showing she was personally subjected to unwelcome harassment. But PRG’s argument that Karamatic “does not establish that the alleged comments (although not disclosed) were even made to her” relies on a selective reading of the complaint. Mot. to Dismiss 5. While Karamatic does include some allegations regarding comments Pendleton made to or about others to bolster the complaint, Compl. ¶¶ 4.06, 4.08–09, she also describes repeated, unsolicited comments that Pendleton made directly to her about his sex life, often during one-on-one meetings. See id. ¶¶ 4.07–08. Unwelcome sexual harassment can take several forms, including “sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome in the sense that it is unsolicited or unincited and is undesirable or offensive to the employee.” Jones v. Flagship Int’l, 793 F.2d 714, 719 (5th Cir. 1986). Karamatic’s allegations here describe unsolicited verbal conduct of a sexual nature sufficient to make her claim plausible as to the unwelcome harassment element.

Relatedly, PRG argues that the complaint alleges only offhand comments that do not constitute actionable harassment because they were not so severe or pervasive as to change any term, condition, or privilege of Karamatic’s employment. “For harassment to be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment, the conduct complained of must be both objectively and subjectively offensive.” E.E.O.C. v. WC&M Enters., Inc., 496 F.3d 393, 399 (5th Cir. 2007). Because determining whether an environment is hostile or abusive is not “a mathematically precise test,” the inquiry requires looking at all the circumstances. Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22–23 (1993). Relevant circumstances include “the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Id. at 23. It is a “recurring point in Supreme Court opinions … that simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment.” Shepherd v. Comptroller of Pub. Accounts of State of Tex., 168 F.3d 871, 874 (quoting Faragher v. City of Boco Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998)) (internal punctuation omitted).

Karamatic alleges more than mere offhand comments and has met her pleading burden as to this element as well. The complaint alleges that Pendleton continued to make sexually explicit comments to Karamatic in one-on-one meetings after she repeatedly asked him to stop. Compl. ¶ 4.07–08. Further, the complaint alleges that Pendleton’s behavior was “both distracting and disruptive,” that Karamatic complained it “was undoing [her] efforts to develop a brand and reputation”4 and that, in response to Karamatic’s multiple complaints her supervisor allowed her to work from home to avoid Pendleton. Id. ¶¶ 4.12–13. Assumed as true, Karamatic’s factual allegations support a reasonable inference that the harassment was so severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of her employment.

The court also held that plaintiff’s complaint adequately alleged harassment based on sex, noting that defendant “makes no real attempt to explain how allegations of a male coworker repeatedly describing his sexual encounters to a female plaintiff in one-on-one meetings are insufficient at the pleading stage to support a reasonable inference” that sex was the basis of the harassment, particularly when considered in light of the above-described conduct, “along with the additional allegations of similarly inappropriate behavior directed at other women in the office.”

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