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LINDBLOM v. CHALLENGER DAY PROGRAM

March 18, 1999

SUZANNE K. LINDBLOM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CHALLENGER DAY PROGRAM, LTD., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gottschall, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

FACTS

The facts assumed to be true for purposes of this motion are as follows.*fn1 Plaintiff, Suzanne Lindblom, was employed by defendant, The Challenger Day Program, Ltd., as a teacher from December 1, 1992 through August 27, 1996. Challenger is a school for severely emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disordered children. Challenger has two administrators, defendant Eleanor Flynn, the executive director, and Christopher Raspante, Challenger's principal.

In 1992, plaintiff was sexually harassed by a Challenger coworker. Def. Memo., Exhibit E. She complained to the administration. Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 261. The administration met with Lindblom and the alleged harasser, and the administrators verbally reprimanded the harasser. Id. By his own choice, the alleged harasser eventually left Challenger. Id.

Lindblom alleges that subsequently, she was harassed by another Challenger co-worker, Robert Salmons ("Salmons"). Salmons co-taught with Lindblom at Challenger from August 1994 until August 27, 1996. Salmons had no supervisory authority over Lindblom.

On August 24, 1995, Salmons hosted a party at his parents' home. Salmons invited Lindblom to the party, and Lindblom accepted the invitation. The party was not sponsored by Challenger. Challenger did not pay for the party and no Challenger students, parents, or administrators attended the party. At the party, Salmons allegedly touched and fondled plaintiff against her will.

After the party, Lindblom alleges, Salmons began to behave inappropriately in the classroom. She asserts that on numerous occasions, Salmons stared at her while she was teaching a lesson or reading to the class. He also stood close to Lindblom and entered her "private space". Over the course of one year, on approximately five occasions, Salmons leaned or bent down and steadied himself by placing his hand on Lindblom's knee, just above the knee-cap, while speaking to Lindblom quietly. Over that same time period, Salmons, on ten occasions, touched Lindblom's shoulder to get her attention. In addition, on Mondays, Salmons often asked Lindblom about her weekend. Salmons once asked Lindblom if she would attend another one of his parties. Salmons' conduct made plaintiff uncomfortable.*fn2

In October 1995, for the first time, plaintiff informed Raspante that she had been "sexually harassed" by Salmons at his party, but she told Raspante that Salmons had never sexually harassed her at work. She met with Raspante again in February and July of 1996. On these occasions she complained to Raspante of inappropriate conduct by Salmons in the classroom. She told him that Salmons stared at her and made her uncomfortable. She also told Raspante about Salmons' conduct in putting his hand on her knee, tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention, and asking her about her weekend. She told Raspante "how much it was bothering [her] working with Bob [Salmons] in the classroom." Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 264. In the February meeting, plaintiff asked Raspante if she could be transferred to another classroom. Raspante informed her that no positions were available. Id. at 248. In July 1996, plaintiff asked Raspante if she could be transferred to Bridge View Day School, Inc., Challenger's sister school, because she was uncomfortable working with Salmons. Id. Raspante said he would see what he could do and said that she should "hang in there". Id.

Plaintiff met with Flynn on August 1, 1996. During that meeting she told Flynn for the first time about Salmons' conduct at his party and informed Flynn that she was uncomfortable working with Salmons. In her conversation with Flynn, plaintiff "told [Flynn] I couldn't work within the classroom with [Salmons]. I don't know exactly how I said it. I said it was just a terrible environment." Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 261. Lindblom did not give Flynn specifies about her complaints, i.e., the knee touching, staring, shoulder touching, and the questions about her weekend. Id. at 262. Flynn told Lindblom she needed to handle the situation. She suggested that Lindblom seek counseling to help her deal with it. Id. at 406. Lindblom told Flynn that she would not return to Challenger if Salmons was not removed from her classroom. Id. Lindblom testified that Flynn then asked plaintiff how Flynn could know that the party incident actually happened. Id. Lindblom stated that Flynn said Lindblom "enticed" the party incident. Id. at 406.

Plaintiff received annual performance evaluations from Challenger. In plaintiff's August 1994 and August 1995 evaluations, Lindblom was informed that she needed to demonstrate improvement in her professional image and presentation, including her attire. Three times plaintiff was advised-twice in writing and once orally-that her attire was inappropriate for work and that she was dressed unprofessionally. Id. at 282-284. On June 15, 1995, plaintiff attended a school event in a summer dress with a translucent skirt. See Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 280, 282. Raspante told her that her attire was unacceptable. See Def. Memo., Exhibit B-3; Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 280, 282. Raspante told her to leave to obtain a slip, and he covered her parent-teacher conferences while she was away. See Def. Memo., Exhibit B-3; Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 280, 282. Raspante sent Lindblom a memo documenting this incident on June 15, 1995. See Def. Memo., Exhibit B-3; Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 280, 282. On another occasion, plaintiff wore a sweatshirt and shorts that defendants viewed as inappropriate for work. See Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 282. On June 3, 1996, Raspante sent Lindblom a typewritten memo in which he documented a May 20, 1996 meeting with her about her attire in which he told her that she dressed too casually for work. See Def. Memo., Exhibit B-3; Def. Memo., Exhibit C, Lindblom Depo. at 280, 282. Challenger's personnel policies and procedures manual provides that employees must dress professionally and appropriately.

Challenger reprimanded Lindblom for tardiness on several occasions between October 1995 and August 1996. She was required to be at work at 7:45 a.m. Nonetheless, between September 1995 and August 1996, plaintiff was late for work six times because of oversleeping, traffic or because she ran errands before work. Id. at 275-276. Twice she was late by more than an hour; Salmons and another teacher assumed Lindblom's duties in the classroom in her absence. On both occasions, Lindblom was docked a half day's pay. She received written warnings and a verbal warning.


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