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Guider v. Schiff Hardin LLP

September 18, 2006

KATHY GUIDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SCHIFF HARDIN LLP, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

Presently before us is Defendant Schiff Hardin LLP's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff Kathy Guider claims that the sexually harassing behavior of a co-worker subjected her to a hostile work environment. Defendant contends that the allegedly harassing conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment and, moreover, that its prompt response to her internal complaint precludes any basis for liability. For the reasons set forth below, we grant Defendant's motion with respect to the hostile work environment claim.*fn1

SUMMARY OF THE FACTS*fn2

Guider began her employment with Defendant in February 1997, where she works in the Accounting Department. (Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 15-16.) From 2001 through July 2004, Guider reported to supervisor Ron Stricker, Defendant's Financial Accounting Manager. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 18.) Since 2000, John Villasenor has been the Accounts Receivable Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 5.) Although Villasenor may have had input into Guider's reviews, he was not her supervisor. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Facts ¶ 20; Pl.'s Mem. of Law Supporting Denial of Def.'s Mot. at 8; Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 20-22.)

Guider bases her sexual harassment claim on several incidents involving her co-worker, Villasenor. In December 2003, Villasenor had a conversation with Guider and two other co-workers about a place at 167th Street and Pulaski where men pay to have sex with women. (Pl.'s Facts ¶¶ 1-2.) He reported that he had been there and suggested that Guider and the other employees go as well. (Id. ¶ 1.) Sometime during that same month, he again mentioned this location and asked another employee if she had visited it.*fn3 (Id. ¶ 2.) Villasenor did not describe the details of any sex acts at this site. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 76.) When Villasenor made these comments, Guider did not feel that he was trying to initiate a sexual relationship with her or her co-workers. (Id. ¶ 77.)

Shortly thereafter, in January 2004, Villasenor called Guider and Stricker into his office, where he showed them a sexually-suggestive commercial emailed to him by his wife. (Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3; Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 72-74.) Although the commercial did not include any nudity, sexual acts or sexual language, it depicts a man and woman in a car at a stoplight and insinuates that the couple has engaged in oral sex. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 72-74.) After the commercial ended, Stricker turned red in embarrassment and asked Villasenor what he was "trying to do." (Pl.'s Facts ¶ 5.) The following day, Guider asked Stricker why Villasenor showed them the video, but he did not respond. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Finally, on March 8 and 9, 2004, Villasenor rubbed Guider's shoulders for a couple of seconds as she sat at her desk and told her that she smelled good. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 79.) When Guider indicated that this contact was unwelcome, Villasenor stopped. (Id. ¶ 80.) At no time did Villasenor proposition Guider, touch her private areas, or talk dirty to her. (Id. ¶ 82.)

On March 9, Guider complained about Villasenor's conduct to Betty Faulhaber, Defendant's Director of Human Resources. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 84; Pl's Facts ¶ 6.) Within two days, Faulhaber completed an investigation, which included interviews of Guider and witnesses. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 85.) Faulhaber reprimanded Villasenor and required him to take additional training. (Id. ¶ 86.) On March 17, 2004, Guider emailed Faulhaber, informing her that Villasenor apologized for the email and stated that he would respect Guider's space. (Id. ¶ 88.) At that time, Guider thanked Faulhaber for her prompt resolution of the matter. (Id.) Following Faulhaber's investigation, Villasenor stopped all allegedly harassing conduct. (Id. ¶ 87.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper only when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). This standard places the initial burden on the moving party to identify "those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Once the moving party meets this burden of production, the nonmoving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading" but rather "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue [of material fact] for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, we must accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true, and draw all inferences in that party's favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Finally, "[w]e apply the summary judgment standard with special scrutiny to employment discrimination cases, which often turn on the issues of intent and credibility." Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Illinois, Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 491 (7th Cir. 2000)).

ANALYSIS

An employer violates Title VII when it engages in sexualharassment that creates a hostile or offensive working environment. Meritor Sav. Bank v. Vinson,477 U.S. 57, 66, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 2405 (1986); Hardin v. S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.,167 F.3d 340, 345 (7th Cir. 1999); Rodgers v. Western-Southern Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 1993). Guider must prove that (1) her work environment was subjectively and objectively offensive, (2) the harassment was based on her membership in a protected class, (3) the conduct was severe or pervasive, and (4) there is a basis for employer liability. Cerros v. Steel Techs., Inc., 288 F.3d 1040, 1045 (7th Cir. 2002). Here, Defendant contends that Guider failed to satisfy the third and fourth elements of her claim.

With respect to the third element, "[c]onduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment -- an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive -- is beyond Title VII's purview." Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 370 (1993). A court must consider the "totality of the circumstances, including the 'frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.'" Cerros, 288 F.3d at 1046 (quoting Harris, 510 U.S. at 23). As the Seventh Circuit observed,

Drawing the line is not always easy. On one side lie sexual assaults; other physical contact, whether amorous or hostile, for which there is no consent express or implied; uninvited sexual solicitations; intimidating words or acts; obscene language or gestures; pornographic pictures. On the other side lies the ...


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