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Hall v. Bodine Electric Co.

January 08, 2002

LOUVENIA HALL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BODINE ELECTRIC COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 99 C 8050--Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

Before Bauer, Easterbrook, and Manion, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manion, Circuit Judge.

Argued September 7, 2001

Louvenia Hall sued her former employer, Bodine Electric Company, alleging that the company violated Title VII by discriminating against her on the basis of sex with respect to its training and promotion practices, subjected her to hostile environment sexual harassment, and retaliated against her for reporting the harassment. Bodine moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Hall appeals the decision, and we affirm.

I.

Louvenia Hall worked as a machine operator at Bodine Electric Company from September 9, 1994 until June 14, 1999. Bodine manufactures small motors for a variety of machines requiring a quiet power source for repetitive motors. Hall operated a grinding machine (a machine that smooths parts) and a hobbing machine (a machine that cuts teeth into gears) in the company's gearing/hobbing department ("gearing cell").

Shortly after she began working at Bodine, Hall claims that her supervisor, Steve Conn, refused to provide her with orientation training, and that she only received the training after complaining to his superior. She contends that this incident was merely the beginning of a pattern of discrimination against her by Bodine when it came to training opportunities for advanced positions in the company.*fn1 Hall alleges that Bodine gave preferential treatment to its male employees when training opportunities for advanced positions became available, and refused to train her for these positions solely because of her gender.

Hall also alleges that Bodine subjected her to a hostile environment of sexual harassment. On June 8, 1999, Hall came to work wearing a sleeveless blouse with a sleeveless t-shirt on underneath--she did not have on a brassiere. Later that day, Hall was speaking with Samuel Lopez and Douglas Benson, two of her co-workers, when Lopez suddenly reached over and pulled her blouse and t-shirt from her body, thereby exposing her breast. Lopez then held out his thumb and exclaimed, "Her nipples is this damn big!" Hall attempted to strike Lopez, but he ran away from her. She then went looking for her supervisor, Brian Kolka, to inform him of what had just occurred. By the time Hall found him, a company meeting was about to begin, and, before she could say anything, Kolka requested that they speak at a later time. The meeting lasted until the end of the workday, and Hall went home without informing Kolka of Lopez's harassment.

The next morning, tensions ran high in the gearing cell. Lopez, one of the cell's "set-up operators,"*fn2 assigned Hall to operate a specific machine, but she angrily refused to comply with his directive. Lopez informed Kolka of Hall's refusal, and Kolka immediately arranged a meeting between the three of them to address the matter. From the outset of the meeting, Kolka sensed the "vitriol" between Hall and Lopez, and attempted to facilitate a constructive dialogue to ascertain the underlying problem. When Lopez and Hall refused to stop interrupting one another, Kolka decided to end the meeting. Before doing so, however, he told Hall that Lopez, as a set-up operator, had the authority to assign her to any machine in the gearing cell, and that she was required to follow his instructions. The meeting ended after Hall agreed to comply with Lopez's instructions in the future. Neither Hall nor Lopez mentioned the previous day's incident during this meeting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Hall went to the human resources department to file a complaint against Lopez for sexual harassment. She met with Kolka and Mike Metz, Bodine's human resources manager, and related to them what Lopez had done to her the previous day. Kolka and Metz then called Rich Meserve, Bodine's vice president of human resources, into the meeting, and requested that Hall repeat the allegations of her complaint for his benefit. She did so and also informed them, for the first time, of other occasions where Lopez had sexually harassed her. Hall told them that, on approximately eight or nine occasions in October or November of 1998, Lopez rubbed a small rubber ball with spikes on the back of her neck in an effort to make her "nipples stick out." She also claimed that Lopez often made inappropriate sexual comments in her presence. When Hall finished recounting these incidents, Meserve thanked her for apprising the company of the conduct, informed her that an investigation would be commenced immediately, and told her that she could return to work. After telling him that she was too upset to work, Meserve gave Hall the remainder of the day off with pay. Meserve then assigned Metz to conduct an investigation of Hall's complaint, instructing him to begin the process immediately by interviewing Lopez. Meserve told Metz that after he interviewed Lopez he was to advise him of his suspension, pending the outcome of the investigation. Metz interviewed Lopez later that day, afterwards informing him of the suspension. The following day, Lopez filed a "counter claim" of harassment against Hall, alleging that she grabbed his buttocks and made graphic sexual comments/ gestures about male genitalia. Bodine responded to Lopez's complaint by suspending Hall, and expanding Metz's investigation to encompass both complaints.

Metz interviewed eighteen people, including Lopez and Hall, during the course of his investigation. He spoke with every individual that Lopez and Hall identified as a potential witness, and a few others that he determined might have been stationed in the proximity of the alleged conduct. Metz made handwritten notes during these interviews, but shredded them after typing them into his computer at the conclusion of each day of the investigation. Based on the information he discovered during the investigation, Metz concluded that Lopez and Hall had both violated Bodine's workplace rules prohibiting sexual harassment. Metz reported his findings and conclusions to Meserve who then made the decision, on June 14, 1999, to terminate both employees.

On June 11, 1999, three days prior to her termination, Hall filed charges with the EEOC alleging that Bodine discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, subjected her to hostile environment sexual harassment, and retaliated against her for complaining of the discriminatory treatment and harassment. Hall filed a second EEOC complaint on June 18, 1999, alleging that Bodine fired her in retaliation for reporting Lopez's sexual harassment and because of her gender. After receiving her right-to-sue letters, Hall initiated the underlying civil action against Bodine, suing the company under Title VII for sex discrimination, hostile environment sexual harassment, and retaliatory discharge. The district court granted Bodine's motion for summary judgment on all three claims. Hall appeals the decision.

II.

We review de novo the district court's decision to grant summary judgment, construing all facts, and drawing all reasonable inferences from those facts, in favor of Hall, the non-moving party. Warsco v. Preferred Technical Group, 258 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2001). Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material ...


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