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Echevarria v. Utitec Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 28, 2017

HAYDEE ECHEVARRIA, Plaintiff,
v.
UTITEC, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 40] AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 51]

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Haydee Echevarria brings this case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., alleging that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliated against for complaining about sexual harassment. Plaintiff also brings common law claims for negligent and reckless supervision. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims, and Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on her common law claims. For the reasons that follow, these motions for summary judgment are DENIED.

         II. Facts

         A. Background

         Plaintiff began working at Utitec as a temporary employee on April 23, 2013. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 37-38, 52-53; Dkt No. 52-4 at 1]. Kara Harlow, Director of Human Resources, hired Plaintiff on a permanent basis on September 30, 2013. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 38, 58-60; Dkt. No. 52-4 at 2; Dkt. No 52-5 at 7]. In this position, she served as Utitec's receptionist and assisted various managerial employees as needed. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 58-60]. In or about mid-July 2014, Plaintiff began to support Samuel Oakes, Director of Engineering, and Yared Mengistu, Director of Quality Assurance. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 66-67, 70; Dkt. No 52-5 at 8, 32, 48; Dkt. No. 52-6 at 13-15]. According to Oakes, Plaintiff did a good job for him and he liked her as an employee. [Dkt. No. 52-6 at 15]. He also described the Plaintiff as a social person who socialized with “everybody” in the office. Id. at 15. Mengistu was also satisfied with Plaintiff's work performance, enjoyed working with her, and described Plaintiff's mood as “generally positive.” [Dkt. No. 52-23 ¶ 5].

         B. Plaintiff's Relationship with Arthur Dostaler

         Arthur Dostaler is an eyelet toolmaker at Utitec, which is not a supervisory position. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 171; Dkt. No. 52-8 at 12, 14-15; Dkt. No. 52-7 at 36; Dkt. No. 52-18 ¶ 1]. Plaintiff met Dostaler in April 2013, and agreed that their first meeting was “innocuous and uneventful.” [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 100-101]. She further described their relationship as initially involving only the exchange of pleasantries such as “hi” and “bye.” Id. at 100-101. However at some point “a couple of months” before a July 17, 2014 Happy Hour, Dostaler began “float[ing] by” her desk to speak to her about his personal life, work complaints, and Plaintiff's appearance. Id. at 101-102. Plaintiff testified that Dostaler's work complaints seemed “angry, ” and that she sometimes felt uncomfortable when Dostaler made comments about her appearance. Id. at 111-12. Plaintiff testified that Dostaler came across as “arrogant and slimy, ” and would look at her in an “uncomfortable” or “dirty” way when he commented on her clothing and lipstick. Id. at 112-14.

         Oakes similarly described Dostaler as having “a quick temper sometimes” and being “loud.” [Dkt. No. 56-6 at 21]. Oakes also described Dostaler as “touchy” or “handsy.” [Dkt. No. 52-6 at 56-57]. While he believed he had seen Dostaler touch multiple female employees, including giving shoulder rubs to “several women, ” he could only specifically remember the name of one woman who Dostaler gave a shoulder rub, but who asked Dostaler to do so. Id. at 58-59. Oakes did not know whether any other touches or shoulder rubs he witnessed were or were not welcome, but testified that he “wouldn't touch the people [he] work[ed] with” and that it made him “uncomfortable.” Id. at 57-58; [Dkt. No. 56-22 ¶¶ 4-5]. Oakes did not report any of these incidents to Human Resources. [See Dkt. No 52-5 at 75-77, Dkt. 52-25 ¶ 6].

         At Plaintiff's request, Dostaler stopped making comments about Plaintiff's clothing and lipstick. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 101, 115-18, 119]. However, Plaintiff testified that Dostaler continued giving her “I-want-you-looks” or “I-want-to-have-sex-with-you” looks. Id. at 117-19. Dostaler denies making inappropriate comments or giving inappropriate looks. [Dkt. No. 52-18 ¶ 2, 7]. Plaintiff testified that she did not think she reported any of these alleged comments or looks to her supervisors or human resources. [Dkt. No 52-3 at 119].

         C. Happy Hour

         On Thursday, July 17, 2014, approximately ten Utitec employees, including the Plaintiff, Dostaler, Oakes, and Mengistu, went to a “happy hour” at Prime Time Pub in Thomaston, Connecticut. To Plaintiff's knowledge, no supervisors or representatives of human resources other than Oakes and Mengistu attended. Id. at 119-20, 128; [Dkt. No. 52-8 at 47-48; Dkt. No 52-5 at 73; Dkt. No. 52-9 at 7, 22; Dkt. No. 52-11 at 10, 28-29; Dkt. No. 52-7 at 69-70]. Plaintiff was not required to attend the happy hour, she was not paid for her time there, and she was unaware of any business that may have been conducted there. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 124-26]. However, the happy hour was planned at the office by two of her co-workers, who spread invitations by talking to other employees in the office. Id. at 121-23.

         During the happy hour, Dostaler approached the Plaintiff on three or four separate occasions. She alleges that he tried to feed her food and asked what time she was leaving, whether her husband was home, whether he husband knew she was at the Prime Time Pub, why she did not let her hair down, and why she seemed uptight. Id. at 133, 135-36. In response, Plaintiff told Dostaler, “No, thank you. Get away from me. I'm good.” Id. at 136-38. Oakes described Dostaler's conduct as “pestering” and “very irritating.” [Dkt. No. 52-6 at 36-39]. He testified that he observed Dostaler try to feed the Plaintiff food and ask her questions about where she was going after the Happy Hour, if she was going home to her husband, and if she was going to be cooking. Id. at 36-39. Dostaler denied trying to feed the Plaintiff food, and said that when he said “[w]hy don't you let your hair down, ” he meant, “why don't you relax and have a good time.” [Dkt. No. 52-8 at 49-51; Dkt. No. 52-18 ¶ 8]. Plaintiff asked Oakes to walk her to her car around 7:00 p.m., which he did. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 155; Dkt. No. 52-6 at 40]. Although she did not say so, Oakes believed Plaintiff asked for his escort because she was uncomfortable. [Dkt. No. 52-6 at 40]. On the morning following the happy hour, Dostaler “lurked” near Plaintiff's area and told her he was disappointed she had not let her hair down or let loose the night before. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 157-58, 174-79; Dkt. No. 52-6 at 47].

         D. Human Resources Report and Responses

         Plaintiff initially wanted to handle the incidents with Dostaler herself and therefore did not immediately report them to Human Resources. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 168; Dkt. No. 52-6 at 74-75]. Plaintiff admitted at her deposition that it is possible she asked Oakes not to report to Harlow what had happened at the happy hour and the following day. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 193-94].

         Despite Plaintiff's reluctance to report the incident, at some point between July 18, 2014 and August 6, 2014, Oakes did share concerns about Dostaler's behavior at the happy hour with Robert Oppici, Utitec's President and Chief Executive Officer, which he shared with Harlow, who in turn spoke to Oakes. [Dkt. No. 52-5 at 74, 77; Dkt. No. 52-6 at 7, 44-46; Dkt. No. 52-9 at 24-25]. Harlow decided not to open a formal investigation into Oakes' observations from the happy hour because the alleged conduct had not occurred at a work event or during work hours. [Dkt. No. 56-5 at 77; Dkt. No. 56-25 ¶¶ 3-4]. Harlow and Oppici testified that she had never heard or observed anything about Dostaler's conduct or behavior that caused her concern, and that she had not received any complaints about Dostaler. [Dkt. No 52-5 at 75-77; Dkt. No. 52-9 at 7, 29; Dkt. 52-25 ¶ 6].

         Utitec has an Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policy and a Reporting Process Policy that are set forth in the employee handbook, and which are shared with all employees when they join Utitec. [Dkt. No. 52-5 at 66; Dkt. No. 52-25 ¶ 7; Dkt. No. 52-26 at BATES000321-322]. The handbook requires supervisors to report all suspected acts of harassment or discrimination. [Dkt. No. 47-1 at 8]. It also provides that “[t]he Company will promptly and thoroughly investigate all complaints and will take appropriate action, up to and including termination of employment, if the circumstances warrant.” Id. Plaintiff was given a copy of the handbook that describes these policies. [Dkt. No. 52-5 at 66; Dkt. No. 52-25 ¶ 7].

         Harlow conducted a sexual harassment training class for Utitec supervisors on August 6, 2014. [Dkt. No. 52-5 at 49-50; Dkt. No. 52-25 ¶8]. Plaintiff testified that she attended the training because she believed it would be “informative, ” but that she was not asked or required to attend. [Dkt. No 52-3 at 180-83]. Plaintiff testified that during the training, Harlow stated that it was her understanding that something had happened at the Happy Hour and if the person who had an issue did not come forward, the supervisors who attended the Happy Hour could be fired for not reporting the incident. Id. at 185. Harlow denies making this statement and counters that at most, she noted that supervisors have a responsibility to report sexual harassment that they observe or about which they are informed. [Dkt. No. 53-5 at 125-26; Dkt. No. 53-25 ¶ 8].

         Plaintiff formally reported her concerns about Dostaler to Harlow on August 15, 2014, at least in part because she believed Oakes and Mengistu would be fired if she failed to do so. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 195]. Plaintiff testified that she told Harlow, “You already know why I'm here” and that she was sorry she had not come to her sooner, but that she did not want to be a burden to Harlow and she was trying to take care of the problem herself. Id. at 199-200. Following this conversation, Harlow decided to issue Dostaler a written reprimand. [Dkt. No. 52-5 at 84-85, 87; Dkt. No. 52-25 ¶ 10; Dkt. No. 52-28].

         E. Alleged Unwanted Touching and Reprimand

         Dostaler was to be given this reprimand at a meeting with his supervisors on the morning of Monday, August 18, 2014. [Dkt. No. 52-9 at 39-40; Dkt. No. 52-20 ¶ 3]. However, at some point it was decided that the meeting should wait until the end of Dostaler's shift, so that he could go home immediately afterward. [Dkt. No. 52-9 at 39-40; Dkt. No. 52-20 ¶ 3]. Plaintiff alleges that on the morning of August 18, 2014, Dostaler came up behind her and “swiped three to four finders on the back of [her] neck down to . . . the very top of where the buttocks would begin.” [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 213-14, 222-23]. Defendant disputes that Dostaler touched the Plaintiff anywhere lower than her “mid-back.” [Dkt. No 52-5 at 107-08, Dkt. No. 52-6 at 66; Dkt. No. 52-9 at 41-42; Dkt. No. 52-11 at 54, 59]. Immediately after Dostaler ran his fingers down Plaintiff's back, Plaintiff “took off.” [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 223-24]. Dostaler followed behind her and grabbed her hand for a couple of seconds before she jerked it away. Id.

         Plaintiff reported the incident to Oppici. Id. at 224-25. Both plaintiff and Oppici erroneously believed that Dostaler received his reprimand before he touched the Plaintiff. Id. at 224-26; [Dkt. No. 52-9 at 41, 43]. In an email about the incident, Oppici wrote, “As you know, Art was going to be spoken to about his unprofessional conduct . . . first thing this morning . . . . To my surprise and unbeknown to me, it was decided to speak to Art at the end of the day rather than first thing in the morning as it might affect Art's work day, etc. Well that decision backfired.” [Dkt. No. 61-2 at BATES000878]. Oakes testified that the Plaintiff also reported the incident to him and that at the time she was “hysterical.” [Dkt. No. 52-6 at 65-67]. Plaintiff left work early on August 18, 2014 and took August 19, 2014 off as a result of this incident. Id. at 72-73; [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 231, 244-45; Dkt. No. 52-25 ¶ 16].

         After learning of the incident, it was determined that Goad and McGregor would read Dostaler the written reprimand immediately after lunch instead of at the end of his shift. [Dkt. No. 52-8 at 68]. Dostaler admitted touching Plaintiff's back but testified that he denied any wrongdoing and refused to sign the reprimand. Id. at 69, 72. He also testified that he was told any similar conduct in the future would result in his termination, and was instructed to go to sexual harassment training. Id. Plaintiffs dispute that Dostaler was instructed to attend sexual harassment training, but offer no evidence that the written reprimand, which includes this instruction, and which the Dostaler testified he was read, was inaccurate. Id. at 67-68; [Dkt. 52-28].

         On Wednesday, August 20, 2014, Plaintiff returned to work and met with Contadini and Oppici. [Dkt. No. 52-9 at 57-58; Dkt. No. 52-3 at 250]. Plaintiff testified that Contadini apologized for Dostaler's behavior and told her that Dostaler had been spoken to and was told to stay away from her. [Dkt. No. 52-3 at 252-53]. She also testified that Oppici said something along the lines of, “These things sometimes happen, and sometimes they're misread, and sometimes we shouldn't think anything of them.” [Dkt. No. ...


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