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Doe v. Lansal

December 22, 2009

JANE DOE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LANSAL, INC., D/B/A HOT MAMA'S FOODS AND CHRIS SINENI, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar

Magistrate Judge Valdez

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before this Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Lansal, Inc. against Plaintiff Jane Doe. Lansal seeks summary judgment in its favor on the issue of its liability for Count I, a sexual harassment claim under Title VII.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

FACTS

Defendant Lansal, Inc., d/b/a Hot Mama's Foods, is a Massachusetts corporation. (Def. SOF ¶ 2.) In late 2003, the Plaintiff became employed at Hot Mama's Elk Grove, Illinois production facility as a line production worker. (Def. Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("SOF") ¶ 7.) At this time, Plaintiff operated under an alias because she had not yet obtained legal resident status in the United States. (Def. SOF ¶ 8, 30.) Spanish is Plaintiff's primary language. (Def. SOF ¶ 11.)

Upon being hired, Plaintiff received a copy of the company's Employment Manual in Spanish and signed a statement acknowledging her receipt. (Def. SOF ¶ 10.) Hot Mama's sexual harassment policy, contained in its manual, states that sexual harassment is unlawful and will not be tolerated by Hot Mama's. (Def. SOF ¶ 13-14.) The policy contains a definition of sexual harassment and states that the company will promptly respond to complaints with an investigation and eliminate offending conduct or impose disciplinary actions where appropriate. (Def. SOF ¶ 14-18.) The policy provides internal reporting procedures for employees as well as information on filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and Illinois Human Rights Commission. (Def. SOF ¶ 20-21.) The Company conducted annual training sessions, attended by Plaintiff, addressing the issue of sexual harassment. (Def. SOF ¶ 22.)

Chris Sineni was Operations Director at the Hot Mama's Elk Grove facility. (Def. SOF ¶ 26.) As Operations Manager, Sineni had the authority to discipline and terminate all employees at the facility. (Pl. SOF ¶ 2.)

Between 2005 and 2008, approximately, sexual acts occurred between Sineni and Plaintiff. (Pl. SOF ¶ 10-14.) Sineni ejaculated onto Plaintiff when they engaged in sexual conduct. (Pl. SOF ¶ 14.) Plaintiff has testified that Sineni forced her to submit to sexual acts against her will, either masturbating and ejaculating on or around her or requiring her to perform oral sex on him. (Pl. SOF ¶ 10.) According to Plaintiff's testimony, Sineni forced her to comply by explicitly and implicitly threatening to deport, terminate, discipline, or expose her. (Pl. SOF ¶ 11, 13.) Defendant maintains that all contact between Sineni and Plaintiff was consensual and welcome. (Pl. SOF ¶ 10-16, Responses.)

In January 2008, Plaintiff obtained her documentation to work legally in the United States. (Pl. SOF ¶ 15.) Plaintiff was permitted to keep her job and she was re-employed under her true name and social security number. (Def. SOF ¶ 32.) Plaintiff testifies that she informed Sineni that she would no longer allow him to engage in sexual activity with her now that she "had [her] papers." (Pl. SOF ¶ 15; Pl. Dep. 125:7-126:4; Def. SOF ¶ 44.)

On May 8, 2008, Sineni ejaculated on Plaintiff. (Pl. SOF ¶ 16.) Plaintiff testifies that, because she "saw that everything was going to continue the way it was," she decided to quit. (Pl. SOF ¶ 16; Pl. Dep. 125:10-12, 57:9; 126:3-7.) Plaintiff resigned from Hot Mama's in May of 2008. (Def. SOF ¶ 36.)

Plaintiff never filed a harassment claim with the management at Hot Mama's. (Def. SOF ¶ 37.) She testified that her one phone call to Human Resources in Massachusetts failed due to language barriers. (Pl. Dep. 62:5-63:5.) After resigning, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. (Def. SOF ¶ 40; Dkt. [1], Ex. 1.) Defendant was wholly unaware of Plaintiff's allegations until it received her EEO complaint. (Id.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "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 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). At summary judgment, the "court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact." Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

ANALYSIS

I. Sexual Harassment under Title VII

Title VII forbids workplace discrimination based on an individual's sex. Roby v. CWI, Inc. 579 F.3d 779, 784 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a)(1)). Sexual harassment violating this prohibition can take one or both of two forms: quid pro quo harassment or hostile work environment harassment. Venters v. City of Delphi, 123 F.3d 956, 974 (7th Cir. 1997). Quid pro quo harassment occurs when "the availability to the plaintiff of tangible employment benefits is conditioned upon her compliance with a harasser's sexual demands." Id; see also Brill v. Lante Corp., 119 F.3d 1266, 1274 (7th Cir. 1997) (quid pro quo harassment occurs "when a supervisor conditions a tangible job consequence on an employee's submission to his sexual demands or advances"). Hostile work environment claims, on the other hand, describe harassment that "has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment." Venters, 123 F.3d at 974 (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65 (1986)); see also Hobbs v. City of ...


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