Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim Survives Summary Judgment; Allegations Include Requesting Hugs and Fondling Hair

In Cloud v. Louis Dejoy et al, No. 19-cv-04638-TSH, 2022 WL 4349832 (N.D.Cal. Sept. 19, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

The Court finds Cloud has offered sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of hostile work environment. As discussed above, Cloud testified that, between 2017 and 2018, Mr. De Paula blocked Cloud’s path with his foot, prevented Cloud from leaving his office, requested hugs, fondled Cloud’s hair, and patted Cloud. ECF No. 62-3, Exh. G (Cloud Decl.) at 136: 3-34, 207: 18-22, 23-25, 208: 1-2, 211:17-20, 212: 1-7, 23-25. See Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d 872 (9th Cir. 1991) (“Well-intentioned compliments by co-workers or supervisors can form the basis of a sexual harassment cause of action if a reasonable victim of the same sex as the plaintiff would consider the comments sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter a condition of employment and create an abusive working environment.”); Medina v. Monahoe, 854 F. Supp. 2d 733, 740, 750 (N.D. Cal. 2012) (finding plaintiff established prima facie case of hostile work environment based on sexual harassment against a supervisor who touched plaintiff’s hair, caressed plaintiff’s shoulders, and commented on how well plaintiff fitted her pants.”). Mr. De Paula’s position as Cloud’s supervisor “made his actions emotionally and psychologically threatening.” Craig v. M&O Agencies, Inc., 496 F.3d 1047, 1056 (9th Cir. 2007). Moreover, Cloud testified that she “felt a certain way” when Mr. De Paula would touch her because she knew that he was previously accused of sexual harassment. ECF No. 62-3, Exhibit G (Cloud Decl.) at 140:12-15; 208: 2-4; 212: 23-24, 213: 1. See Heyne v. Caruso, 69 F.3d 1475, 1479–81 (9th Cir. 1995) (“[The sexual harassment of others, if shown to have occurred, is relevant and probative of [a defendant’s] general attitude of disrespect toward his female employees, and his sexual objectification of them.”).

The court concluded that, in light of the “cumulative effect of the alleged harassment” and in viewing the evidence most favorably to plaintiff, denial of defendant’s motion for summary judgment on this claim was warranted.

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