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Pasqua v. Metropolitan Life Insurace Co.

November 26, 1996




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 94 C 4418 Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

Before COFFEY, RIPPLE and MANION, Circuit Judges.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MAY 29, 1996


Donald Pasqua sued his employer, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e et seq., alleging sex discrimination and retaliation, claiming that he was discharged for complaining of sex discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment for MetLife and Pasqua appeals. We affirm.

I. Background

Donald Pasqua was a MetLife sales representative from 1974 to 1985 and a sales manager from 1990 until his promotion to branch manager at the company's Navajo Hills Branch Office ("NHBO") in Palos Heights, Illinois on October 8, 1990. Milica Vukanic, a sales representative hired by Pasqua, informed Pasqua in April 1991 that certain employees were spreading rumors, including one that was rather coarse in content, that she and Pasqua were engaged in an intimate relationship. *fn1 Pasqua, who confronted the offender and denied the veracity of the rumor, thereafter telephoned Richard Mulvey, his regional manager, to report the incident. Mulvey told Pasqua that his handling of the situation was proper. Rumors of a sexual relationship between Pasqua and Vukanic continued to be disseminated by both men and women in the NHBO and in other MetLife offices. Reports were also circulated that Pasqua was showing favoritism to Vukanic. Pasqua telephoned Mulvey periodically to apprise him of the continuing nature of the rumors and accusations. Pasqua met with Mulvey around September 3, 1992 to discuss the rumors. Mulvey indicated that he had no solution to the problem but that he had admonished several of the offenders respecting their involvement in circulating the gossip. Pasqua informed Mulvey that Vukanic was threatening a sexual harassment lawsuit. The next day Mulvey, Pasqua and Vukanic met with one another to review the complaint, and Mulvey stated he would investigate.

Pasqua was demoted on September 28, 1992 because of the NHBO's poor performance, specifically because of the NHBO's failure to achieve sales objectives, and reassigned as an associate sales manager in another MetLife office around October 28, 1992. He remained there until July 26, 1993, when he went on disability status claiming that he was suffering from anxiety and depression. After Pasqua consulted with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a right to sue letter, Pasqua instigated litigation against MetLife under Title VII, claiming that he had been subject to sex discrimination in having to work in a hostile or abusive environment, and that he was demoted in retaliation for complaining about the rumors. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of MetLife.


We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, examining the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to Pasqua, the non-moving party. Rush v. McDonald's Corp., 966 F.2d 1104, 1110 (7th Cir. 1992). Summary judgment is appropriate when the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). "Only disputes that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude entry of summary judgment." Id. at 248. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

III. Sexual Harassment Claim

Title VII makes it unlawful for an "employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his . . . conditions . . . of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex . . . ." 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e-2(a)(1). A Title VII plaintiff can satisfy his burden of proof by two methods: demonstrating that sex discrimination motivated the harassment, see Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121 (1985), or, because of the difficulty in directly proving discrimination, he may employ the indirect, burden-shifting method set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Pasqua relies upon the McDonnell Douglas methodology.

Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, Pasqua must initially establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination by a preponderance of evidence. See Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981). The vague nature of the statutory language "conditions of employment," see Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 114 S. Ct. 367, 371-72 (1993) (Scalia, J. concurring), has permitted an " 'expansive' " reading of Title VII so as to include sexual "harassment" even when the plaintiff has suffered no economic injury. Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 64-66 (1986) (citation omitted). Sexual harassment, to be actionable, "must be sufficiently severe or pervasive 'to alter the conditions of [the victim's] employment and create an abusive working environment.' " Id. at 67 (quoting Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 904 (11th Cir. 1982)). *fn2

A prima facie case of sexual harassment also requires a showing that, but for the plaintiff's sex, he or she would not have been the subject of harassment. See McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U.S. 273, 282 n.10. Harassment that is inflicted without regard to gender, that is, where males and females in the same setting do not receive disparate treatment, is ...

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