Gender Discrimination • Sexual Harassment • Hostile Work Environment • Statute of Limitations

Standen v. Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, Inc., PICS Case No. 14-0348 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 19, 2014) Munley, J. (21 pages).

Standen filed a Title VII sexual harassment hostile work environment claim against her employer alleging a long pattern of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and retaliation. Defendant alleges that she failed to file a timely EEOC charge within 300 days of the last discriminatory act. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted on the Title VII retaliation claim and denied in all other respects.

Standen began working for the defendant in 1992 as a candy packer, was promoted to packaging technician and worked in that position until she took FMLA leave in 2008. While on FMLA leave, she resigned her position. She alleges that she was sexually harassed by two male co-employees, Black and Pope, and a male supervisor, Calachino, from 2002 through 2008 and that she filed numerous complaints with her supervisors including defendant’s CEO. She also made verbal complaints of sexual harassment to the human resources manager in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Her last complaints to defendant were made on Nov. 11, 2008 and she filed suit on Oct. 25, 2011.

To show a hostile work environment Standen must establish that the discrimination was intentional, and because of her gender, was pervasive, had a detrimental effect on her, was objectively detrimental and established respondeat superior liability. Standen testified that Calachino, Black and Pope subjected her to a barrage of sexually charged comments, innuendos, propositions and gestures including physical touching. Her testimony showed that this conduct by the same individuals suggested a persistent, ongoing pattern. She also testified that the conduct led to her being treated for depression and anxiety. She also followed the provisions in the employee handbook for reporting harassment and discrimination when she complained to her supervisor, the human resources department and the CEO.

Standen timely filed her EEOC complaint when she filed her EEOC discrimination charge on Aug. 31, 2009. She alleged a continuing pattern of violations with the last incidents occurring on Nov. 6, 2008 when she encountered Pope in the stairwell and he told her “why would I want to get you fired? I would miss watching that ass of yours” and on Nov. 11, 2008 when she was called into her supervisor’s office to discuss her sexual harassment allegations and Calachino came in yelled and raved at her that she was a head job and was having hot flashes and the supervisor did not stop him. A reasonable jury could conclude that these behaviors could constitute sexual harassment.

A reasonable jury could find that Standen demonstrated that she was subject to a hostile work environment, that the defendant was aware of the hostile environment and failed to take any remedial response. Additionally, there were genuine issues of material fact as to defendant’s good faith efforts to comply with Title VII. Thus, Standen’s punitive damages claim would stand.