United States District Court, D. Connecticut
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 40] AND DENYING
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO.
Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge.
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.
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].
Plaintiff's Relationship with 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.
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
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].
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.
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].
Human Resources Report and Responses
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].
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].
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].
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].
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].
Alleged Unwanted Touching and Reprimand
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.
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].
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].
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. ...