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Pullen v. Caddo Parish School Board

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

July 2, 2015




Pending before the Court is Defendant Caddo Parish School Board's ("CPSB") motion for summary judgment.[1] For the reasons stated herein, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment shall be GRANTED.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In February 2011, Plaintiff Kandice Pullen ("Pullen") began working as a temporary clerical employee in the purchasing department of CPSB under the supervision of Timothy Graham ("Graham").[2] Her assignment ended on June 30, 2011, and Pullen did not work in the purchasing department again until February 2012.[3] This second assignment ended sometime between mid-to-late May 2012, at which time she transferred to the human resources department of CPSB.[4] During her tenure in human resources, she was supervised by Cleveland White, and she worked there until the end of July 2012.[5] In late September or early October, Pullen began to work in the CPSB special education center as a substitute clerical employee.[6] She worked there until March 2013, when she left CPSB to focus on school.[7]

Pullen alleges that while she worked at CPSB, she was sexually harassed by Graham.[8] She states that during her first stint in the purchasing department Graham often made inappropriate comments about her physical appearance and asked her personal questions.[9] During her second stint in 2012 in the purchasing department, Pullen alleges that Graham's verbal harassment of her increased and that Graham touched her thigh on one occasion. She also avers that he would occasionally touch her arm or shoulder.[10] On one occasion, he invited her into his office to show her inappropriate pictures of women on his computer.[11]

After she left the purchasing department, Pullen states that Graham continued to stop by the personnel department to speak with her.[12] After Pullen transferred to the special education center, Graham stopped harassing her. In the beginning of October 2012, Pullen met Graham for lunch and that was her last contact with him.[13]

On February 27, 2013, Aimee Harris ("Harris") filed a formal complaint with the CPSB against Graham for sexually harassing her.[14] Harris was a substitute clerical employee who worked in the purchasing department under Graham for one week before she sought out Annette Dunlap ("Dunlap"), the secretary to the Human Resources Director, and asked to be reassigned.[15] After Harris was reassigned to a different office, she alleged that Graham continued to harass her. It was at that point that she filed a formal complaint with Cleveland White ("White"), the director of human resources.[16] In her formal complaint, Harris named several CPSB employees whom she believed may have been subject to harassment by Graham, including Pullen.[17] White placed James Wolfolk ("Wolfolk") in charge of investigating Harris's complaint and preparing a written report.[18] Wolfolk interviewed Harris, Graham, Pullen, and the other employees named in Harris's complaint. Pullen was interviewed on March 4, 2013.[19] Wolfolk completed a written report of his investigation and found that Graham had behaved unprofessionally and inappropriately.[20] Wolfolk concluded that Graham was in violation of the CPSB sexual harassment policy, and he recommended that Graham be placed on unpaid leave for one week. Wolfolk also recommended that Graham be required to attend counseling regarding his behavior.[21] Wolfolk presented his findings to the Superintendent of CPSB, who agreed with the findings and recommendations.[22]

On March 6, 2013, Pullen signed and dated a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), describing how Graham had harassed her.[23] The letter was received by the EEOC on March 12, 2013, and on March 18, 2013, an employee at the EEOC contacted Pullen to confirm that she wished to file a charge against CPSB.[24] Pullen signed the EEOC formal charge on April 23, 2013, and it was received by the EEOC on May 16, 2013.[25]

Pullen filed suit against CPSB in the First Judicial District Court, Caddo Parish, Louisiana on January 29, 2014, and the case was removed to this Court.[26] Pullen alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") for sex discrimination and retaliation.[27] CPSB filed the instant motion for summary judgment, alleging there is no genuine issue of material fact on any of Pullen's Title VII claims.[28] Pullen filed a partial motion for summary judgment, which asks the Court to find that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Graham was Pullen's supervisor, that he sexually harassed her, and that CPSB cannot prove its affirmative defense.[29]

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). Rule 56(c) "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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." Id.

If the party moving for summary judgment fails to satisfy its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the motion must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). If the motion is properly made, however, Rule 56(c) requires the nonmovant to go "beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Wallace v. Texas Tech. Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). While the nonmovant's burden may not be satisfied by conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, metaphysical doubt as to the facts, or a scintilla of evidence, Little, 37 F.3d at 1075, Wallace, 80 F.3d at 1047, all factual controversies must be resolved in favor of the nonmovant. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Farese, 423 F.3d 446, 456 (5th Cir. 2005).

III. Law and Analysis

Under Title VII, an employer's liability for harassment may depend on the status of the harasser. Vance v. Ball State Univ., 133 S.Ct. 2432, 2439 (2013). If the harassing employee is the victim's co-worker, the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions. If the harasser is a supervisor of the victim, meaning he is empowered to take tangible employment actions against the victim, then the standard for liability is strict liability. Id . Under this standard, if the supervisor's harassment culminates in a tangible employment action, then strict liability applies to the employer. However, if there is no tangible employment action, then the employer can avail itself of the Ellerth/Faragher affirmative defense. Id . Pullen has conceded that she suffered no "tangible employment action." Record Document 31. Pullen's claims arise out of an alleged hostile work environment. Therefore, as is discussed in more detail below, if the harasser is her supervisor, the Ellerth/Faragher affirmative defense would be available to the CPSB.

CPSB alleges in its motion for summary judgment that Pullen's hostile work environment claims must be divided and analyzed under two different time periods. The parties agree that for the first time period, Graham was Pullen's supervisor because he had the ability to take tangible employment actions against her while she worked as a temporary clerical employee in the purchasing department. However, in May 2012 when Pullen was transferred to the human resources department, and later to the special education center, Graham was no longer her supervisor. Could he have still have taken tangible employment actions against Pullen and therefore qualified as a "supervisor" for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII? Pullen's response to Defendant's motion raises no dispute of material fact on this issue.[30] Therefore, this Court concludes that during this second time period, Graham, for the purposes of Title VII, is considered her co-worker because he could no longer take tangible employment actions against her.

The Court agrees with CPSB that Pullen's hostile work environment claims must be divided into two separate claims, based upon the two different time periods that she worked at CPSB. Under the first hostile work environment claim, Graham was her supervisor for the purposes of Title VII and CPSB is subject to a strict liability standard. Under her second hostile work environment claim, CPSB shall be subject to a negligence standard of liability because Graham was her co-worker when she worked outside of the purchasing department. Each of the above claims will be addressed below.

A. Pullen's First Hostile Work Environment Claim

The parties agree that Pullen did not suffer a tangible employment action while she worked in the purchasing department. Therefore, CPSB can avoid liability if it can show that it satisfies the Ellerth/Faragher affirmative defense. As a preliminary matter, CPSB argues that Pullen's first hostile work environment claim should be dismissed because it is untimely under the EEOC regulations. In the alternative, it argues ...

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