Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim Dismissed; No Basis for Imputing Liability to Employer

In a recent case, Walker v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 2022 WL 4474248 (M.D.Ga. Sept. 26, 2022), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Plaintiff presented enough evidence to create a triable issue of fact as to whether the offending conduct was “because of” his sex, as well as that it was sufficiently “severe or pervasive.”

As to whether it was “because of” his sex, the court explained:

Viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, there is ample evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Sanks’ conduct was overtly sexual in nature and that she directed her attention at Plaintiff because he is male. Sanks commented on the size of Plaintiff’s penis and made remarks of a sexual nature, including that she wanted to “fuck [him].” Plaintiff testified Sanks threw herself at him and made frequent physical contact with him, including pulling his chest hair and brushing her breasts across the back of his head. Moreover, there is no evidence Sanks behaved this way toward non-male employees. Based on this evidence, a jury could find Sanks’ interest in Plaintiff related to his male gender. [Cleaned up.]

As to whether it was “severe or pervasive,” the court explained:

Plaintiff testified that Sanks’ sexualized remarks, comments about his genitals, and physical agressions made him feel uncomfortable and degraded as a man. Plaintiff further stated Sanks’ harassing conduct interfered with his ability to do his job. …

Plaintiff alleges Sanks engaged in physically aggressive and demeaning conduct in addition to her generally vulgar and humiliating way of addressing Plaintiff. Plaintiff accuses Sanks of slapping him in the back of the head and trying to sit in his lap. He also testified that she attempted to choke him. When Plaintiff asked her to stop, Sanks refused. Instead, her aggression escalated. Sanks punched, slapped, and threw Plaintiff on the floor. Plaintiff testified that on another occasion Sanks slapped him and injured his lip. She engaged in this type of behavior almost every day for five months.

Plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence which when viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff could lead a reasonable jury to conclude the harassment Plaintiff experienced was sufficiently severe or pervasive. First, there is evidence that Sanks’ conduct was physically threatening and often demeaning. This conduct occurred on a regular basis over a five-month period. A jury further could reasonably draw the conclusion that the harassment interfered with Plaintiff’s ability to perform his job. The Court accordingly finds Plaintiff satisfactorily established this prong of his prima facie case.

[Cleaned up.]

By making out these elements, this plaintiff has succeeded where many discrimination/harassment plaintiffs fail.

However, plaintiff’s case is dismissed because he cannot satisfy the element of imputing liability to his employer:

Plaintiff complains about the way Defendant conducted its investigation into Plaintiff’s allegations of sexual harassment but does not otherwise question the timing of Defendant’s response. Rather, the evidence demonstrates that once Defendant received a formal complaint of inappropriate conduct, Defendant promptly began investigating. Defendant thoroughly reviewed the complaints of Plaintiff and Sanks and found both Plaintiff and Sanks acted unprofessionally. Plaintiff accordingly has not satisfied his burden of establishing a basis for holding Defendant liable.

Therefore, since plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of hostile work environment sexual harassment, the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to this claim.

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