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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Lenoir

August 30, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") filed suit against Walsh Construction Company of Illinois and Walsh/II In One Joint Venture ("Defendants") alleging sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. Janice Lenoir ("Lenoir") subsequently intervened. Together, the EEOC and Lenoir allege that Lenoir's supervisor, Manuel Lemus, subjected her to sexual harassment and created a hostile working environment. Lenoir also asserts a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants seek summary judgment of the claims on the grounds that Lemus's conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to be actionable, that Lenoir's complaints about the harassment were promptly and properly addressed, and that Lenoir failed to comply with Defendant's sexual harassment policy when reporting Lemus's behavior. Both the EEOC and Lenoir (hereinafter "Plaintiffs") object to summary judgment.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In determining whether any genuine issue of material fact exists, all facts must be construed in the light most favorable to Lenoir and all reasonable and justifiable inferences drawn in her favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A material fact is genuinely in dispute when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248.

Factual Background

Lenoir was employed by Defendants from November 2000 until January 2002 as a construction laborer at Chicago's Millennium Park. When Lenoir began working for Defendants, Mike Coghlan ("Coghlan") was the project superintendent. Xavier Watkins ("Watkins") was a carpenters' foreman. Manuel Lemus ("Lemus") began working at the site in January 2001 and became Lenoir's immediate supervisor. Lemus was a laborer's foreman and supervised Lenoir. Although Watkins did not supervise Lemus, Lenoir believed that Watkins was senior to Lemus in the chain of command because Watkins provided Lemus with work assignments.

Lenoir alleges that Lemus sexually harassed her on multiple occasions between February 15, 2001 and approximately October 25, 2001. On February 15, 2001, Lemus approached Lenoir and told her that he and his wife did not have a good sex life, and that he wished he had met Lenoir before he met his wife. He then asked whether Lenoir and her boyfriend had a good sex life. The following day Lemus asked Lenoir is she would "take care of him," which Lenoir interpreted as a request for sexual favors.

On February 26, 2001, Lemus walked up behind Lenoir while she was seated in an office doing paperwork and rubbed his penis on her shoulder. Lenoir jumped up and ran out of the office. Lenoir reported this incident to Watkins the next time she saw him at the work site; she may also have informed him of Lemus's comments on February 15 and 16.*fn1 Watkins assured Lenoir that he would "get to the bottom of this."

Less than a week later, on March 2, 2001, Lemus phoned Lenoir and asked her if he could come over to her home to have sex with her. Lenoir refused and hung up the phone. Lemus phoned Lenoir several times that night asking for sex. On March 5, 2001, Lenoir told Watkins about the phone calls. Lenoir also discussed these incidents with Jerome Johnson, a fellow laborer at the job site who was also the union steward. Johnson told Lenoir to follow the "proper channels" and report Lemus's conduct to Watkins.

Watkins told Lenoir that he would report Lemus's conduct to Coghlan, and he did so on March 6, 2001. Watkins later told Lenoir that he and Coghlan spoke with Lemus about Lenoir's allegations. At some point, Coghlan approached Lenoir, told her that he had been informed of Lemus's conduct, and assured her that it would never happen again. Lenoir believes, but is not sure, that Coghlan approached her after Lemus's March 2 telephone calls.*fn2 Lenoir alleges that Coghlan instructed her to report any further problems to Watkins. During the period that Coghlan remained at the site where both Lenoir and Lemus worked, Lenoir experienced no further incidents of harassment; she testified that at the time, she was satisfied with the resolution of these incidents, as the harassment appeared to have ended.

In September, 2001, Coghlan left the Millennium Park work site and was replaced by Greg Voegtle ("Voegtle"). Later in that same month, Lemus approached Lenoir at lunchtime and asked her why she was parking her car at the job site after hours. Lenoir informed Lemus that she was attending school in the evening and leaving her car on-site during her classes.*fn3 That evening, when Lenoir returned to the site to get her car, she saw Lemus waiting in his car. When she realized Lemus was flashing his car lights, she got into her car and left. A few days later Lenoir again left her car at work after hours. When she returned, her car was locked in; the job site was locked for the night. Lenoir assumes that Lemus locked up her car. She did not report these incidents to anyone, including Watkins, though she did ask Lemus why he locked her car in the job site.

In October 2001, Lemus and Lenoir were working together when Lemus twice hit Lenoir on the buttocks. Lenoir yelled at Lemus and moved to the other side of the machine they were moving. The very next day Lemus showed Lenoir a condom and said "come on." Lenoir reported both incidents to Watkins on October 25, 2001, the day after Lemus showed the condom to Lenoir. Watkins again conveyed Lenoir's complaints to Coghlan, but not to Voegtle. Watkins states that after this incident, he was present for a meeting with Lemus and Coghlan in which Coghlan raised his voice, listed the complaints Lenoir had made and asked Lemus what he was doing. Watkins left the meeting before it ended and does not know whether Lemus was threatened with discipline or termination.

Hostile Work Environment

Defendants first seek dismissal on the grounds that Lenoir failed to establish that she was subject to a hostile working environment. To sustain her claim, Lenoir must establish that she was subject to harassment because of her sex, that the harassment was "so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of [her] employment and create an abusive working environment." Hilt-Dyson v. City of Chicago, 282 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations and citations omitted). A hostile work environment is "both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so." Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 787 (1998) (citing Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21-22 (1993)). Factors influencing whether harassment is objectively offensive include the "frequency of the discriminatory ...

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