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A female plumber who claims to have endured five years of harassment and abuse from her male colleagues cannot sustain a discrimination action because there was no adequate showing that the employer instigated or condoned the mistreatment, a federal judge has held. Further, New York’s Northern District Chief U.S. Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. found that the plaintiff could not establish a causal connection between her complaints and her assignment to an unsafe area, where she fell and fractured a rib. Gibson v. Crucible Materials Corp. and Crucible Specialty Materials involved a woman named Patricia A. Gibson, a licensed plumber/pipefitter who worked at a steel mill from August 1995 to September 2000. For that entire period, Gibson claimed, she was persistently subjected to harassment, such as verbal taunts, unwanted physical advances, the presence of pornographic materials, and ostracism and retaliation for complaining about the incidents. But the claim falls short, Judge Scullin said because the alleged conduct of the co-workers cannot be fairly imputed to the employer. Judge Scullin observed that throughout Gibson’s employment, the company had a reasonable procedure for handling complaints. Its sexual harassment policy was posted, and Gibson, according to the court, used that policy to bring her complaints to the attention of management. When she did so, the company took corrective measures, Judge Scullin said. “The thrust of plaintiff’s argument is that defendants’ actions were too little, too late,” Judge Scullin said. “However, defendants have shown that their response to incidents of harassment was significantly delayed only where plaintiff had not brought her complaints to their attention.” The court said that as soon as the company was alerted to the presence of pornography in the workplace, it took steps to remove those materials. Additionally, although Gibson claimed that the defendants’ verbal admonition to an employee who propositioned her was insufficient, the co-worker never again harassed the plaintiff. Judge Scullin said Gibson’s only direct allegation of supervisor misconduct involved a man who touted the benefits of fellatio at a safety meeting. However, it is unclear whether that man ever supervised Gibson. Also, she was not at the safety meeting, and the supervisor was fired, consistent with the company’s sexual harassment policy, after she complained, the court said. Gibson claims she suffered retaliation after lodging a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights and commencing the federal action. She alleges she was ostracized and sent to work in an unsafe area of the steel plant, where she was injured. But Judge Scullin found no causal connection between the harassment claim and the injury, or even her assignment to a dangerous job. Additionally, he said there was no evidence that defendants “condoned or instigated” the alleged ostracization. The defendants were represented by Michael J. Sciotti of Hancock & Estabrook in Syracuse, and Margaret Armstrong Weiner of Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler & Krupman of White Plains. Stewart L. Weisman of Manlius, N.Y., appeared for Gibson.

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