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SMITH v. COUNTY OF HUMBOLDT
January 14, 2003
MARY L. SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
COUNTY OF HUMBOLDT, DEFENDANT
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Illston, United States District Judge.
This Court has granted defendant's motion for summary judgment as to
all claims in the complaint. Accordingly, judgment is hereby entered in
favor of defendant and against plaintiff.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
On September 28, 2001, plaintiff, Mary L. Smith, filed an employment
discrimination complaint against County of Humboldt, alleging that she
was subject to sexual harassment by her coworker Denise Grimes, shortly
after both began training for positions as Eligibility Workers for the
Humboldt County Department of Social Services. On October 4, 2002 this
Court heard argument on defendant's motion for summary judgment based on
plaintiffs failure to (1) establish a prima facie case of sexual
harassment and (2) file a timely complaint. The Court GRANTS summary
judgment for defendant based on plaintiff's failure to state a prima
facie claim of sexual harassment. Accordingly, the Court declines to
decide whether plaintiff's complaint is time-barred.
Plaintiff and the alleged harasser, Denise Grimes, began an eight week
training course for their employment as Eligibility Workers for the
Humboldt County Department of Social Services on January 8, 2001.
According to plaintiff, on January 11, 2001, Ms. Grimes initiated
unwanted contact by pushing plaintiff's head. Plaintiffs Depo. at
83:3-8. Plaintiff alleges several other incidents of offensive conduct by
Ms. Grimes including: sitting in a chair vacated by plaintiff (id. at
87:5-9); "brushing up" against plaintiff in the bathroom (id. at
89:3-5); hitting the plaintiff's cheekbone (id. at 82:8-17; id. at
30:8-10); trying to sit next to plaintiff at lunch; touching
plaintiff(id. at 83:13-19, 84:18-22); and hitting plaintiff on the
shoulder to get her attention (id. at 86:9-12).
Plaintiff complained about the harassment for the first time on January
22, 2001. That same day, her employer reprimanded the alleged harasser.
Plaintiff requested that her work station be changed on January 29,
2001. Exhibit B to the Decl. of Lorraine Davey, Deputy Director of
Employee Services for Humboldt County. That same day, plaintiff submitted
a letter entitled "Sexual Harassment Complaint" to her employer. Id. On
February 1, 2001, plaintiff submitted a letter of resignation in which
she stated, "Due to the sexual harassment incident whereby Denise Grimes
assaulted and approached me with unwelcomed conduct of a sexual nature
that has unreasonably interfered with my work performance and created an
intimidating and hostile and offensive working environment and no
satisfactory remedy has been made, I hereby submit my resignation for the
position of Eligibility Worker I (EW) trainee effective immediately."
Exhibit B to the Decl. of Lorraine Davey.
The steps taken by defendant to remedy the harassment included
admonishing the alleged harasser not to engage in any unwanted touching
of employees and reviewing sexual harassment policies with all trainees.
Polifrom Decl. 4:4-15; 4:19-26. Upon plaintiff's request, defendant
rearranged seating in the classroom to put more distance between
plaintiff and Ms. Grimes. Polifrom Decl. 5:17-26. Plaintiff does not
dispute that following these remedial measures, plaintiff did not report
another incident of harassment. Exhibit B. to Decl. of Lorraine Davey.
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment shall be
granted "against a party who 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 . . . since a
complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the
nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial."
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); see also T.W.
Elec. Serv. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th
Cir. 1987) (the nonmoving party may not rely on the pleadings but must
present significant probative evidence supporting the claim); Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (a dispute about a material
fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.").
The court's function, however, is not to make credibility
determinations, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, and the inferences to be drawn
from the facts must be viewed in a light most favorable to the party
opposing the motion. T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. The court is only
required to draw those inferences that are reasonable in light of the
facts. See Tyler v. Runyon, 70 F.3d 458, 457 (7th Cir. 1995) (cited in
Tovar v. City of Alameda, 1998 U.S. Dist. Lexis 5688 (N.D.Cal.)). In
considering a summary judgment motion the Court must render summary
judgment 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).
Title VII makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis
of sex with respect to the terms and conditions of employment.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (a)(1). The courts have held that discriminatory
conduct includes harassment (see e.g., Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson,
477 U.S. 57 (1986)) when that harassment occurs because of sex. See
Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75, 80-81 (1998) (stating
that Title VII only prohibits harassment which occurs because of sex,
regardless of whether the harasser is the same sex as or opposite sex
from the victim).
The courts have recognized two legal theories on which plaintiffs may
base sexual harassment claims. The first is quid pro quo harassment, or
harassment in which a supervisor requires an employee to engage in sexual
activity and threatens tangible employment actions, such as demotion,
denial of promotion, or discharge, if the employee does not comply with
the harasser's demands. The second is hostile work environment
harassment. This harassment can be perpetrated by a supervisor or
coworker. The hallmark of hostile work environment harassment is that
there is no tangible employment action which results from the
harassment. See Burlington v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 751-753 (noting that
the terms "quid pro quo" and "hostile work environment" have been used in
the courts to refer to sexual harassment and describe respectively,
harassment that is accompanied by specific harm to the victim's job and
harassment that harms an employee's job more generally, by creating a
hostile work environment).*fn1
To survive a defendant's motion for summary judgment, as a threshold
matter, a plaintiff must show that the harassment occurred because of
sex. See Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75, 80-81
(1998). In addition to this requirement, to state a prima facie case of
hostile work environment sexual harassment a plaintiff must show that she
has experienced (1) conduct of a sexual nature (2) that is so severe or
pervasive as to alter the terms and conditions of her working environment
and (3) that the conduct is unwelcome. Harris v. Forklift Systems,
510 U.S. 17 (1993); Brooks v. City of San Mateo, 229 F.3d 917, 924 (9th
Cir. 2000); Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d 872, 875 (9th Cir. 1990). The
plaintiff's belief that she has been subjected to a hostile and abusive
work environment must be both subjectively held and objectively
reasonable. Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d 872, 879 (9th Cir. 1991). See
also, Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 786 (1998) ...