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SAXTON v. AT&T

February 6, 1992

MARCIA L. SAXTON, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN TELEPHONE & TELEGRAPH COMPANY (successor to AT&T BELL LABORATORIES), Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES B. MORAN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 Plaintiff Marcia Saxton (Saxton) brought this Title VII action against defendant American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), alleging sexual harassment in the workplace. Before us now is defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, we grant defendant's motion.

 I. FACTS

 Saxton began her employment with AT&T (Naperville, Illinois) in August 1986, as a Senior Design Associate (SDA) on the design engineering staff. In June 1987, she met Jerome Richardson (Richardson), a supervisor in one of AT&T's testing groups. Several times between June and December 1987, the two had lunch together. During one of these luncheons Saxton expressed some interest in transferring to Richardson's group. She transferred into Richardson's group in January 1988 as a Senior Technical Associate (STA). *fn1"

 In April 1988, Saxton and Richardson agreed to have drinks after work one evening. They left work together and drove in Richardson's car to a local bar, where they stayed for two hours. Richardson suggested, and Saxton agreed, that they go to a jazz club located in Chicago. In several instances while at the club, Richardson rubbed his hand up and down Saxton's upper leg -- Saxton told Richardson to stop, moved his hand, and stated that he could get into trouble for what he was doing. As the two left the club it started raining. Richardson pulled Saxton into a nearby doorway and kissed her for two to three seconds before she pushed him away. Once in the car, Saxton told Richardson to never do that again, and he apologetically agreed. Richardson then drove Saxton back to her car at the company parking lot.

 Two weeks later, Saxton and Richardson lunched together to discuss Saxton's transition to the project management tools group. *fn2" They took separate cars to a local restaurant, but upon finding it closed Saxton joined Richardson in his car and they drove to another restaurant. After lunch, Richardson drove to a nearby park. He parked his car, got out and proceeded to walk down a hill. Because "it was spring, and the daffodils were blooming" Saxton decided to get out of the car and walk around. At some point soon thereafter, Richardson "lurched" at Saxton from behind some bushes. Saxton ducked and ran several feet to avoid Richardson. She, as in the previous incident, told him he could get in trouble for his conduct, after which Richardson became quiet. According to Saxton, this was the last incident in which Richardson displayed sexually inappropriate behavior.

 After the park incident, Saxton claims that Richardson continued to harass her, not sexually, but by not speaking to her, acting in a condescending manner, and by teasing her about her personal relationship with another co-worker, Omar Altaji. More specifically, in his supervisory role Richardson never seemed to have time to meet with Saxton and would frequently cancel meetings that had been scheduled. Saxton admits, however, that Richardson was very busy during this time and hardly had time for anyone. When the two did talk, Richardson would appear impatient, short, and spoke to Saxton as if she were a child. This went on from April until October 1988, although it was during this time that Richardson did assign Saxton work in the project management tools group.

 In October 1988, Saxton decided to speak with AT&T supervisor Kamla Garg about her situation. Garg informed Saxton of her options, including speaking with AT&T ombudsperson Patricia Kitterman. After considering her options, Saxton spoke with Kitterman in January 1989. One month later, Saxton filed a formal internal complaint of sexual harassment with AT&T affirmative action counselor Antoinette Thomas, and with Saxton's current department head, Michael Holmes (Holmes). After discussing related company policy and procedure with Thomas, *fn3" Holmes began investigating Saxton's charges.

 Holmes' investigation included interviewing Saxton and several witnesses Saxton identified to corroborate her story, including a woman who Saxton claimed was also a victim of Richardson's sexual harassment. Holmes also received input from Richardson as to his version of the alleged harassment. Holmes concluded that there was inconclusive evidence of sexual harassment. As support for this conclusion, Holmes cited conflicting reports between Saxton and Richardson. *fn4" The woman identified by Saxton as another victim of Richardson's sexual harassment, Fay Trespalacious, emphatically denied any such harassment. Trespalacious stated that she was being harassed by Saxton because Saxton was spreading rumors about her and Richardson. The other witnesses interviewed by Holmes at Saxton's behest provided no corroborating information.

 Holmes nevertheless concluded that Richardson exercised "poor management judgment" in pursuing a personal relationship with Saxton, a subordinate. Holmes also perceived a "communication problem" between the two principals, while noting that Saxton had an "extremely distrustful" perception of Richardson's objectivity as manager. As a result of these findings, Holmes decided that Richardson and Saxton should be separated and that Richardson should take a refresher course on AT&T's policy on sexual harassment. At his deposition, Richardson testified that he never took the course. Holmes also testified that he considered suspending Richardson for one week, without pay, but he never followed through.

 As mentioned earlier, Saxton worked at home during the investigation on a special project for Holmes. In early May 1989, Holmes began efforts to reintegrate Saxton back into his department. On May 15 the two met to discuss Saxton's next job assignment. Because Saxton had recent experience in the project management tools group, and because of additional head count allocated for this area, Holmes requested Saxton to review the project's requirements, examine whether the requirements were complete, and to explore with other project meters where they were in terms of the project. Saxton was also told to choose the portion of the work that best met her skills and experience. Holmes mentioned to Saxton that they would meet again once she completed this assignment, at which time he would listen to her input and make a specific job assignment.

 After the May 15 meeting a series of computer-transmitted correspondence (E-mail) was volleyed between Holmes and Saxton. On May 18 Saxton sent Holmes a message indicating that she was frustrated and depressed. Saxton stated that she perceived all the jobs to be taken and that it was "very hard for [her] to see anything that [another co-worker] has not staked out as his." She believed that her abilities could be better used in requirement development, as opposed to reviewing existing requirements. She expressed dissatisfaction in taking direction from the project coordinator, Trespalacious, who, as mentioned earlier, is the person who emphatically denied being sexually harassed by Richardson. Saxton's May 18 message also criticized AT&T over its handling of her sexual harassment complaint and included a list of essential elements that any job that she might be assigned must contain. Holmes responded on May 19. He wrote that "it is inappropriate to evaluate what others are doing and to conclude that all the work has been done." Holmes assured Saxton that there was plenty of work to go around and that he gave her his full support. Consistent with Holmes' assessment, Saxton stated at her deposition that she had no reason to believe that she could not make a contribution. The next round of E-mail began on May 23, when Saxton wrote to Holmes that "it's pointless to try and discuss job objectives when there are still outstanding issues to be resolved." *fn5" In addition, Saxton requested personal time off until the matter was resolved.

 After Saxton's May 23 correspondence, until she was terminated on August 14, Holmes made several attempts to contact her to persuade her to return to work. He wrote her on June 23, June 28, July 19, August 3, and August 9, repeatedly telling her that the arrangement for her to work at home was voided. She also was instructed to see AT&T's medical staff if her health was the reason she had not replied to any of Holmes' admonitions. During this time Saxton received her full salary from AT&T. On August 10, Holmes sent his ...


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