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Taylor v. Abt Electronics

January 15, 2010

JANIS TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ABT ELECTRONICS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen District Judge

MEMORANDUM, OPINION AND ORDER

This case is before the court on defendant Abt Electronics Inc.'s ("Abt") motion for summary judgment of plaintiff Janis Taylor's three count complaint, which alleges claims of hostile work environment, retaliation and constructive discharge. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment [119] is granted as to all of plaintiff's claims.

BACKGROUND

From a review of both parties' pleadings and submissions, the material undisputed facts are as follows. Janis Taylor was employed with Abt from November 15, 1995 until December 21, 2001. Over the course of her employment, Ms. Taylor took offense to a number of incidents and conversations between fellow employees. Ms. Taylor informed management of her displeasure regarding the behavior of her colleagues that was often sexual in nature. Many times the behavior would cease upon Ms. Taylor's request, but she was dissatisfied with management's response.

These various incidents are summarized as follows. Ms. Taylor alleges that a female supervisor and an employee had a short relationship in 1998. She also heard from her friend that the same supervisor had kissed another former employee. Sometime in April 1999, Ms. Taylor overheard discussions of a pornographic videotape of an Abt employee that was being copied using Abt equipment and being sold to other Abt employees. She reported this to management, and the responsible employee was suspended by the owners of Abt for ten days without pay. Ms. Taylor also complains of employees discussing their relationships at work and that these conversations sometimes referred to sexual behavior. She did not typically, however, mention these conversations to Abt management, and these individuals usually stopped the conversations when Ms. Taylor requested them to do so.

In April or May of 2001, one conversation among a group of Abt employees was particularly offensive to Ms. Taylor, and she reported it to Abt human resources. Ms. Taylor reported to the human resources department that she overheard a number of male employees discussing certain sexual acts that took place at the previous night's bachelor party. At a later date, Ms. Taylor alleges that she complained of two non-pornographic drawings, which were posted on a wall in a back room at the store. When she told an employee that she was offended by the drawings, they were taken down. On November 14 and 21, 2001, Ms. Taylor received two e-mails containing sexually suggestive jokes from a fellow supervisor. Shortly thereafter, she approached the author of those e-mails and asked her to stop. She did not receive any additional offensive e-mails. None of the above incidents were directed towards Ms. Taylor personally, and she did not observe many of them directly.

On December 10, 2001, Ms. Taylor recommended to a customer that he go to another electronics store for a part he requested for his remote control. Ricky Abt observed the incident and issued a file letter to Ms. Taylor's personnel file because she sent a customer to a competing electronics store rather than fulfill his request. On December 15, 2001, she challenged the file letter, which she had done in the past upon receiving file letters. Ricky Abt declined this request because he felt she mishandled a simple customer request. After receiving this response, Ms. Taylor personally visited Ricky Abt and again challenged the file letter. Mr. Abt told her that his decision had been made, but Ms. Taylor returned once again that same evening with another employee whereupon she was told to leave his office and go home. He assured her she was not fired, but needed to leave immediately. Two days after this incident, Ricky Abt called Ms. Taylor and informed her that she would be demoted from her supervisor position, which would result in a $2.00 per hour pay decrease. Ms. Taylor had previously held this position at Abt prior to obtaining her supervisor role. As a result, Ms. Taylor decided to quit because she felt the conditions of work would be unacceptable and tendered her resignation to Bob Abt on December 21, 2001.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper when "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only 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. 277, 248 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate when the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The existence of a factual dispute is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion; instead, the nonmoving party must present definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion for summary judgment. See Butts v. Aurora Health Care, Inc., 387 F.3d 921, 924 (7th Cir. 2004). In reaching its holding, the court will consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

DISCUSSION

Janis Taylor brings her claims of hostile work environment, constructive discharge and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. In relevant part, § 2000e-2 proscribes employment practices by which an individual is discriminated against with respect to their compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of their sex. 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII also makes it unlawful "for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees... because he [or she] has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment action [by Title VII]." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Plaintiff seeks relief under these statutes and we analyze the merits of her claims under the controlling case law.

I. Hostile Work Environment

Janis Taylor argues that the various sexual conversations and incidents taking place at Abt during her employment created a hostile work environment inhibiting her ability to perform her job. The Supreme Court held in Amtrak v. Morgan that the prohibitions of § 2000e-2(a)(1), "includes requiring people to work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive environment." 536 U.S. 101, 116 (2002)(citing Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc. 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993)). The Seventh Circuit has established that "only if the court concludes the conduct would adversely affect the work performance and the well-being of both a reasonable person and the particular plaintiff bringing the action may it find that the defendant has violated the plaintiff's rights under Title VII." Gleason v. Mesirow Financial, Inc. 118 F.3d 1134, 1143 (7th Cir. 1997).

In making such a determination, the Supreme Court has held that a court should look to the totality of circumstances presented in a given case, such as the frequency, severity, and use of intimidation or humiliation towards the plaintiff. Amtrak, 536 U.S. at 116. When doing so, the court must determine whether the incidents were "mere offensive utterances" or instead, "the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance." Id. The Seventh Circuit further explained that "vulgar banter, tinged with sexual innuendo" is not actionable under Title VII when it held for defendant after the plaintiff's supervisor had made numerous vulgar comments directly to plaintiff. Baskerville v. Culligan Int'l Co., 50 F.3d 348 (7th Cir. 1995). Moreover, the Seventh Circuit has established that it is very difficult to establish an actionable hostile work environment when the relevant conduct is not directed towards the plaintiff. ...


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