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United States v. Henry County

August 12, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HENRY COUNTY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge

ORDER

Now before the Court is Defendant Henry County's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion [#21] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART

JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, as the claim asserted in the Complaint presents a federal question under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C § 2000e et seq.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff United States of America ("Plaintiff") brings this action against Defendant Henry County alleging that it violated Title VII by discriminating against its former employee, Michele Baze, based on her sex when her supervisor, Jack Anderson, sexually harassed her. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Henry County was on notice that Anderson sexually harassed employees because of similar allegations made by former employee, Jennifer Richardson, but failed to take meaningful steps to remedy his behavior and prevent further harassment.

Anderson's Alleged Harassment of Jennifer Richardson

Jennifer Richardson began working for Henry County on October 2, 2001, as animal control secretary. She reported directly to Jack Anderson, the animal control warden. Richardson and Anderson generally worked alone together in a small office separate from the other Henry County buildings. Richardson worked with Anderson from October 2001 until early summer 2003 with no complaints.

Beginning in the summer of 2003, Richardon testified that her work environment became hostile because Anderson began making advances toward her. Specifically, Anderson brushed Richardson's hair a few times, taped her legs together with scotch tape two or three times, and repeatedly looked her body up and down.

On August 11, 2003, Richardson reported Anderson's behavior to Lieutenant Jim Padilla, a Henry County police officer, ("Lt. Padilla") because it was making her uncomfortable. She also told Lt. Padilla that while she and Anderson were on a field call, Anderson grabbed her by the arms, pulled her next to a truck, and had his arms around her before letting her go. Lt. Padilla asked Richardson if Anderson had ever attempted to kiss her or touch her anywhere besides her arms, and she said no. However, she did note that Anderson had slapped her on the buttocks once, but he never did it again after Richardson asked him to quit. In addition, Richardson told Lt. Padilla that Anderson once "snarled" in her ear but did not physically touch it. Finally, Richardson stated that Anderson asked her out for a beer once while they were at a mutual friend's wedding.

During this conversation, Richardson told Lt. Padilla that she loved her job and that she did not want to get Anderson in trouble; she only wanted Anderson to be aware that he was making her uncomfortable because of these incidents. Later that day, Lt. Padilla told Richardson that he would speak with Anderson to discuss her concerns. Again, Richardson told Lt. Padilla that she liked working with Anderson and that she wanted to keep working. Lt. Padilla advised Richardson that he would talk to Anderson the following Monday morning when Anderson returned from vacation. In addition, Lt. Padilla asked Richardson if she was comfortable with how he was addressing her concerns, and she said yes.

Sometime during the week before Lt. Padilla talked to Anderson, Richardson notified Barb Link, the County Clerk, that Anderson had made some passes at her, but she did not go into any details. Link told Richardson to meet with State's Attorney, Terry Patton, and then she warned Richard Erickson, the Equal Employment Officer, that Richardson might come to him about a complaint. Richardson met with Patton, and she told him that Lt. Padilla was going to talk to Anderson. As a result, Patton told her that Lt. Padilla would handle the complaint.

On August 18, 2003, Lt. Padilla called Richardson immediately after he talked with Anderson. After that discussion, Richardson believed that Lt. Padilla adequately addressed her concerns. Richardson did not have any problems with Anderson for approximately nine months until May 2004, when he began the same behavior as Richardson had originally reported to Lt. Padilla. Richardson did not tell anyone that Anderson's behavior started again. Subsequently, Richardson resigned in August 2004 without giving Anderson a reason. She told people at Henry County that she resigned for personal reasons and family obligations, although it is not clear whom she told.

Anderson's Alleged Harassment of Michele Baze

Michele Baze began working for Henry County on August 23, 2004, as the animal control secretary. As Richardson previously did, Baze reported to Jack Anderson, the animal control warden. Baze and Anderson worked alone together every day in a small office in a remote area. Baze generally performed office work; however, occasionally she would help Anderson with animal complaints in the field. Baze worked at Henry County from August 2004 until April 2006 with no complaints.

Beginning in April 2006, Baze began feeling uncomfortable while working with Anderson. Baze recorded these incidents in a journal, which she later provided to Henry County after she filed her Complaint. The first incident occurred in April 2006 when Anderson tickled Baze's sides with his fingers. Baze further noted that Anderson bumped into her side, and she could feel Anderson's erect penis. In June 2006, Anderson commented about Baze's breast size and her physical appearance. During her deposition, Baze testified that she did not feel her work environment was hostile at that point in June 2006. Baze then went on maternity leave.

Upon returning from maternity leave on September 18, 2006, Baze alleges that Anderson's harassment significantly escalated. During that week, Anderson hugged Baze more frequently. He would wrap his arms around her while stating that he missed her while she was on maternity leave. Anderson even smelled her hair, snarled in her ear, and tried to kiss her neck. In addition, Anderson cornered Baze in the office to hug her where he again smelled her hair, snarled in her ear, and tried to kiss her neck. Anderson also pulled Baze onto his lap and slapped her butt when she stood up. Baze alleges that Anderson's harassment continued nearly every day for approximately one month.

On October 18, 2006, Baze contacted her union representative regarding Anderson's sexual harassment. The union representative completed an official grievance form, which he sent to Henry County's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Officer, Dick Erickson. Later that day, Baze and her union representative met with Erickson, and she explained Anderson's harassment in detail to Erickson. Erickson informed Baze that the County would conduct an investigation, and that she should take two paid days off. In addition, Erickson informed Baze that when she returned, she would be moved to the county clerk's office in order to avoid contact with Anderson.

Erickson immediately called the county board chairman who organized an investigative panel to assess the credibility of Baze's allegations. On October 23-24, 2006, the investigative panel interviewed Baze, Anderson, Baze's husband, and Jennifer Richardson (the former animal control secretary). On December 11, 2006, after concluding its investigation, Henry County terminated Anderson because it determined that Baze's allegations were sufficiently credible. Erickson testified that the investigation took six weeks because they were waiting for the interview transcripts.

After Anderson's termination, Baze moved back to the animal control office, where she performed Anderson's duties until the County hired a new animal control warden in February 2007. Baze testified that the new animal control warden did not harass her. However, Baze resigned in July 2007 stating that the new animal control warden did not really do ...


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