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FULLER v. CATERPILLAR INC.

October 4, 2000

MARCIA M. FULLER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CATERPILLAR INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruben Castillo, Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Marcia M. Fuller brought this action against her employer, Caterpillar Inc., alleging that Caterpillar is liable for sexual harassment committed by some of her co-workers. Caterpillar has brought a motion for summary judgment, which we grant for the reasons stated below.

RELEVANT FACTS*fn1

In 1994 and 1995, during a strike between Caterpillar and the United Automobile Workers Union ("UAW"), Fuller worked as a temporary employee at Caterpillar's Aurora facility, which manufactures tractors and other earth-moving equipment. Her temporary employment ended when the strike ended. On July 28, 1998, Fuller was hired as an assembler at Caterpillar's Aurora facility. On August 3, Fuller began working in the factory, in Building H on line 966. Fuller's immediate supervisor was Brent Finley, who reported to Superintendent Jerry Elliott, who, in turn, reported to Factory Manager Chuck Elwyn.

On August 11, Bob Ribolzi, Chairman of the UAW's Bargaining Committee, informed Elwyn that Steve Brazzale, Fuller's fiancé, had called him to tell him that Fuller was being sexually harassed at the factory but had not identified the alleged harassers. Later that same morning, Elwyn spoke to Fuller in his office, with his secretary, Cindy Stejskal, present to take notes. At that meeting, Fuller told Elwyn that her co-workers were making vulgar comments and rude sexual gestures at her. Specifically, Fuller described an incident in which a co-worker, holding a hot dog by his crotch and waving it at her, said "Want some of my wienie, I'll share it with you. It's big enough." (R. 46, Pl.'s Resps. to Def.'s 56.1 Statement of Facts at ¶ 55.) In addition, Fuller told E]wyn that she heard sexual comments all day long — "that it was like walking through a gauntlet." (Id.) Some examples she gave to Elwyn of these comments were: "With an ass like that you'll be in management in no time," "nice ass," "yum-yum," and "oh baby." (Id.) Although she would not identify any of her harassers, she told Elwyn that she wanted the harassment to stop.

Elwyn offered Fuller two alternatives: (1) file a complaint; or (2) walk out with him through the workplace. She declined both options at that time because she was afraid of her complaint getting back to the alleged harassers. She did, however, express that "she wanted Caterpillar, at the very least, to have a meeting or to send memos out to let the harassers know their conduct would not be tolerated." (Id.) Elwyn then asked Fuller if she would be more comfortable speaking with the UAW leadership, and she agreed to meet with UAW Committeeman John Bakel and UAW Civil Rights Committee Chairperson Pete Moore. Elwyn concluded the meeting by asking Fuller to contact him if she experienced any further incidents of sexual harassment and told her he would personally take action to ensure that it stopped.*fn2 (R. 27, Def.'s 56.1 Statement of Facts at ¶ 59 (citing Def.'s 56.1 Exs., Ex. 16, Stejskal Notes of August 11, 1998 Meeting).) On or about the same day, Elwyn notified Elliot, the superintendent in Fuller's work area, that Fuller had complained of sexual harassment. Elwyn instructed Elliot to "keep his eyes open." (R. 46, Pl.'s Resps. to Def.'s 56.1 Statement of Facts at ¶ 62.)

The next morning, August 12, Bakel and Moore met with Fuller, and Fuller told them that she was being sexually harassed. She stressed to Bakel and Moore that the sexual comments her co-workers made to her all day long were "unbearable, degrading and sexually vulgar." (Id. at ¶ 63.) In addition, she told them about a note placed on her car that read "Nice Ass You're Gonna Get Fucked." (Id.) She also told them that her co-workers stared and whistled at her, and subjected her to unwanted hugging. However, even though Moore explained to Fuller that the UAW could not help resolve her complaint unless she identified her harassers, Fuller again refused to identify any of the alleged harassers because she was afraid. Bakel and Moore recounted their conversation with Fuller to Elwyn the same day.

Because they did not know the names of the alleged harassers, Elwyn, Bakel and Moore decided that Bakel and Moore would walk the factory floor and talk to the union stewards in order to try to identify Fuller's harassers. Caterpillar asserts that, during this walk-thru, "Bakel and Moore never received any information from the union stewards or other employees relating to Plaintiff's sexual harassment complaint." (R. 27, Def.'s 56.1 Statement of Facts at ¶ 70.) Fuller flatly denies this, but does not provide an explanation or evidence of what information, if any, Bakel and Moore collected. In addition, Bakel and Moore canvassed the floor and talked to Fuller's co-workers. They told the employees that a sexual harassment complaint had been made and reminded them of the company's policy against such conduct. Fuller admits that Bakel and Moore walked around "saying, `Leave her alone,'" but points out that no Caterpillar officials participated in this walk-thru. (R. 46, Pl.'s Resps. to Def.'s 56.1 Statement of Facts at ¶ 68.)

Around the same time, Finley, Fuller's direct supervisor, told her that he had been informed of her complaint and understood that she did not want to identify the alleged harassers. When Finley asked whether Fuller's harassers were on line 966, she responded that "some of the men on line 966 were engaging in sexual harassment." (Id. at ¶ 80.) Finley then moved Fuller to the work zone just outside and in full view of his office. Fuller alleges, without support, that the move was designed to "torture her and punish her." (Id. at ¶ 71.)

Fuller had to miss work on August 10, 12, and 13 because she was involved in two car accidents. After she returned to work, she did not have any further conversations with anyone in Caterpillar management or the UAW about the alleged harassment.

On August 14, Elwyn consulted with Labor Relations Manager Jack Futterer. He told Futterer the substance of Fuller's complaints, as relayed to him by Bakel and Moore, and told Futterer of their efforts to learn the identities of the harassers and to stop any harassment. Futterer told Elwyn that he had acted appropriately given the information Fuller provided.

On August 28, Fuller stopped reporting to work. Steve Brazzale, whom Fuller married on August 13, called and told Caterpillar that she left because of the harassment. On January 19, 1999, Fuller filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. In that charge, for the first time, Fuller identified the alleged harassers as "Harley (last name unknown) and Erwin (last name unknown)." (R. 27, Def.'s 56.1 Statement of Facts at ¶ 80.) When the Aurora facility received Fuller's charge, Futterer directed Labor Relations Representative Bill Miller to investigate the allegations. Miller interviewed Bakel, Moore, and Finley and identified the two individuals named in the charge as Erwin Sohm and Harley Hitchcock. He interviewed Sohm and Hitchcock, who denied Fuller's allegations, and, at the conclusion of the interviews, Miller "reaffirmed Caterpillar's policy against sexual harassment and informed them that any harassment would result in discipline, up to and including discharge." (Id. at ¶ 85.)

On November 10, 1999, Fuller filed suit in ...


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