United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
September 24, 2004.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PHILIP REINHARD, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Patricia Ann Eade, filed a complaint against
defendant. Motorola, Inc., alleging a violation of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.,
based on a claim of sexual harassment by two coworkers. Defendant
has moved for summary judgment, contending it is not liable as a
matter of law because once it became aware of the harassment it
took reasonable steps to prevent future harassment.
Summary judgment is proper when the record shows that there is
no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Berry v. Delta
Airlines, Inc., 260 F. 3d 803, 808 (7th Cir. 2001).
Under Title VII, an employer can only be held liable for the
sexual harassment of a coworker if it knew or should have known
about the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to
remedy the harassment once it was put on notice. Wyninger v. New
Venture Gear, Inc., 361 F.3d 965, 976 (7th Cir. 2004). If an
employer takes reasonable steps to discover and rectify the
harassment, it has discharged its legal duty. Wyninger,
361 F. 3d at 976. An employer's response to alleged instances of
employee harassment must be reasonably calculated to prevent
further harassment under the particular facts and circumstances
at the time the allegations are made. Wyninger,
361 F. 3d at 976. The focus is not solely on whether the remedies ultimately
succeeded, but instead, should determine whether the employer's
total response was reasonable under the circumstances as then
existed. Wyninger, 361 F. 3d at 976. What is a reasonable
response depends on the seriousness of the harassment.
Longstreet v. Illinois Dept. of Corrections, 276 F. 3d 379,
382 (7th Cir. 2002). The question of whether an employer
could have done more in response to a claim of harassment is
irrelevant unless the plaintiff can present some evidence
suggesting that the steps taken by the employer were not
reasonably likely to prevent the harassment from recurring.
Berry, 260 F. 3d at 813.
In this case, plaintiff does not contend (nor could she in
light of the undisputed evidence) that defendant should have
known of the sexual harassment prior to November 17, 2001, the
date when plaintiff first reported it to a supervisor. Rather,
plaintiff asserts that there is a question of material fact as to
whether, once defendant did know, its response was reasonably
calculated to prevent further harassment.
Based on the undisputed evidence, the court concludes that
defendant's response was reasonably calculated to prevent further
harassment and that defendant is entitled to judgment as matter
of law on that basis. There is no question that defendant took
prompt and measured action in response to plaintiff's complaint,
including allowing plaintiff to leave with pay, instructing the
offenders to stay away from plaintiff unless work related, and
conducting a thorough investigation. Once it was determined that
the harassment had occurred, and the seriousness of it, defendant
initiated measures designed to quell any further harassment,
including relatively severe discipline against the offenders and
a reasonable attempt to keep them away from plaintiff considering
the limitations of the workplace. These measures were, as a
matter of law, reasonably calculated to prevent future harassment
in light of the seriousness of the prior conduct.
Plaintiff attempts to challenge the reasonableness of
defendant's response by contending that nothing short of
termination would prevent future harassment. The fact that
defendant could have done more is of no consequence absent a
showing that what defendant did was not reasonably likely to
prevent future harassment. See Berry, 260 F. 3d at 813.
Plaintiff also points to the continued harassment of one of the
offenders as evidence that the measures taken were not reasonable
calculated to prevent the harassment. Assuming that Hassell's
conduct after the preventative measures were taken constitutes
sexual harassment, the mere fact that the measures did not fully
succeed is not determinative. Further, plaintiff did not bring
this additional conduct to the attention of defendant and, in
fact, told her supervisor when asked, that everything was fine.
Plaintiff further relies on the fact (based on multiple
hearsay) that her supervisor, Brumett, knew of a prior instance
of sexual harassment by Hassell against another employee based on
a group leader's having relayed the other employee's complaint to
Brumett. Assuming both the truth and the admissibility of such a
fact, it is of no consequence here. Even had defendant been aware
of the prior instance of harassment by Hassell (assuming it was
in fact harassment), the measures taken by defendant in response
to plaintiff's complaint were still reasonably calculated to
prevent future harassment as they were immediate, focused, and
relatively severe. This is especially so in light of the fact
that no other similar measures directed at Hassell had been taken
in the past and shown to be ineffective.
Finally, plaintiff suggests that defendant's response was
inadequate because she was required to move to a different team
although on the same shift with all the same benefits and pay.
This argument fails as the undisputed evidence shows plaintiff
agreed to the change. The law does not require defendant to
necessarily force the offending employee to work a different
shift than the victim, particularly where the measures
implemented are otherwise reasonably calculated to prevent future
harassment. Moreover, in a facility as small as defendant's, it
would be nearly impossible to prevent plaintiff and the offending
employees from having some work-related contact. Defendant's only
responsibility under Title VII was to take reasonable measures to
prevent improper contact, this it did.
Because there are no questions of fact or law regarding the
issue of whether defendant's response was reasonably calculated
to prevent future harassment, the court grants defendant's motion
for summary judgment.
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