Johnson v. Keystone Quality Transport
Date of Verdict: Feb. 13.
Court and Case No.: U.S. District Court, E.D. Pa.No. 2:16-cv-06603-GJP.
Judge: Gerald J. Pappert.
Type of Action: Civil rights, Title VII.
Injuries: Mental, psychological and anxiety.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Caroline Hope Miller, Derek Smith Law Group, Philadelphia.
Plaintiffs Expert: Julia Weinberg, Ph.D., psychiatry, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: James H. Lutz, Lutz & Associates, Media, Pennsylvania.
Defense Expert: Dr. Gladys Fenichel, psychiatry, Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
On July 27, 2015, plaintiff Pamela Johnson, in her 40s, started working as a paratransit van driver at Keystone Quality Transport Co., a company that provides nonemergency medical transportation in the Philadelphia region.
Johnson had been assigned to work with Charles Lane. According to Johnson, beginning in September, Lane began sexually harassing and sexually assaulting her. She asserted that Lane had sent lewd and naked photographs of himself to her phone; made vulgar comments relating to their genitalia; frequently leered at her; blocked her way by standing in the door; and on two occasions, grabbed her breasts and crotch.
On Oct. 22, Johnson reported Lane’s alleged behavior to management, and he was fired. Johnson believed that Keystone retaliated against her by suspending her, on Oct. 29, and by allegedly terminating her on Nov. 6.
Johnson sued Keystone and two of its supervisors, Barbara Crews and Frank Magliore, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights of the 1964 Act by retaliating against her. She also sued Lane, claiming assault and battery. At trial, Johnson recounted Lane’s alleged harassment. Her counsel presented the photographs that Lane had sent of himself. A text message by Lane was presented in which he asked Johnson if she had received the photographs.
Keystone maintained that Johnson was suspended for legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons and that she was not terminated; she had abandoned employment. Her suspension was based on an incident in which Johnson had taken the wrong paratransit van and taking a set of keys to another vehicle which prevented the use of the vehicle.
Keystone contended that, three days following her abandonment, Johnson submitted to the company a physician’s note stating that she had injured her back while at Keystone. The company’s counsel argued that at no point during her employment had Johnson claimed a work-related injury and therefore her motives for the note were questioned.
Keystone also questioned Johnson’s credibility. According to the company, Johnson had stated on her job application that she had a high school diploma, when she did not; additionally, she misstated her prior employment.
In his deposition, Lane, who did not appear at trial, denied Johnson’s allegations. According to Lane, Johnson had requested the photos.
Johnson claimed that Lane’s conduct caused her to relapse into drug use and enter a rehabilitation program. She also allegedly suffered from anxiety attacks, depression, an inability to sleep or eat, and uncontrollable crying. Additionally, she was unable to find a new job.
Johnson’s expert in psychology testified that Lane’s alleged harassment and assault, along with the financial strain of unemployment, caused her to suffer mental distress and an aggravation of her pre-existing drug use. Johnson sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. She also sought $113,500 in back pay.
Keystone’s expert in psychiatry, who examined Johnson, opined that the alleged workplace incidents had nothing to do with Johnson’s relapse and emotional distress, which was instead a result of her longstanding, pre-existing condition.
Following closing arguments, Johnson withdrew her claims against Lane, Crews and Magliore. The jury was to only determine her claims against the company of sexual harassment and retaliation.
The jury rendered a defense verdict. It found that no sexual harassment had taken place and that Keystone did not retaliate against Johnson. This report is based on information that was provided by counsel of Crews, Keystone Quality Transport and Magliore. Plaintiff’s counsel did not respond to calls for comment, and Lane was not asked to contribute. —This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication