Discrimination • Retaliation • Sexual Harassment • Title VII • Materially Adverse Action

Hallman v. PPL Corp., PICS Case No. 14-0236 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 31, 2014) Gardner, J. (46 pages).

Hallman’s Title VII retaliation claim against PPL based upon complaints of sexual harassment by her supervisor Lobach made in 2007 failed because the actions taken by Lobach were not materially adverse. Her claim with respect to actions by Lobach in 2007 and early 2008 were time-barred and the evidence did not support the allegations that the bullying and harassment of Hallman by two fellow employees, was causally connected to Hallman’s 2007 sexual harassment complaints against Lobach. Additionally, Hallman failed to provide evidence to show that she suffered any materially adverse action or treatment connected to her Feb. 24, 2010 EEOC charge. The court granted PPL’s motion for summary judgment.

Hallman began working for PPL in 1978. In late 2006 Lobach became her immediate supervisor and remained her supervisor until December 2007 when her shift changed. Hallman and Lobach had a poor relationship and she complained to Lobach’s supervisorabout inappropriate comments Lobach had made to her. In 2007 she filed an internal complaint alleging sexual harassment by Lobach. Several months later, she complained to the human resources department that her complaint was not receiving sufficient attention. In February 2008, she received her 2007 performance evaluation from Lobach and Cook ,who became her new supervisor. The evaluation rated her performance as “satisfactory,” which was consistent with her prior performance evaluations.

From 2007 until 2012 two employees bullied and harassed Hallman. The employees did not report to Lobach, but Lobach testified that he was aware of problems between the employees and Hallman. On Feb. 24, 2010, Hallman filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. Hallman did not recall any negative treatment by anyone at PPL after the charge was filed.

PPL contended that Hallman’s Title VII retaliation claim is time-barred because she failed to allege any materially adverse action within 300 days of her filing the EEOC charge and the undisputed facts did not show a causal connection between statutorily protected actions taken by Hallman and any alleged retaliatory conduct toward her.

Hallman alleges that she was retaliated against for attempting to protect herself from harassment. The court found that the letter from the attorney was not Title VII protected activity because it was a general complaint about Hallman’s treatment by her co-workers and did not specifically complain about gender discrimination or sexual harassment.

Although Hallman testified as to her belief that the other employees were acting at Lobach’s behest, her own deposition testimony demonstrated the lack of a factual basis for her belief. Hallman also alleged that Lobach retaliated against her after she filed the sexual harassment charge against him. The actions listed were insufficient to substantiate her claim of retaliation.

An employer’s scrutiny of an employee, while unpleasant or annoying, does not create a hostile work environment. Micromanaging by increased scrutiny from a supervisor does not generally rise to the level of materially adverse action required for a Title VII retaliation claim.