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NORMAN v. GANNETT CO.

May 17, 1994

NANCY NORMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
GANNETT CO., INC., et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PATRICK J. ATTRIDGE

 Pending resolution by the Court is the motion of the defendants Gannett Company, Inc., and the Detroit News, Inc., for summary judgment.

 The plaintiff, Nancy Norman (Norman), has filed suit against her joint employers Gannett Company, Inc., and the Detroit News (hereinafter Gannett) for damages for harassment and discrimination in employment based on her gender. The suit was first filed in the Superior Court charging violations of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-2501-2557 (1981 & 1993 Supp.) (DCHRA). The Superior Court action was removed to this court by the defendants. Thereafter, the parties consented to proceed for all purposes before a magistrate judge pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 636(c).

 Background

 This suit involves a number of claims, which fall into two broad categories: claims for sexual harassment and claims for disparate treatment based on gender.

 With regard to the sexual harassment claims, Norman contends that the following episodes taken together constitute a hostile work environment: in the spring of 1988, shortly after she began her employment at WUSA-TV, a reporter stood behind her, unbuckled his pants and dropped them to the floor. Neither she nor the reporter said anything. About a year later, WUSA-TV's production manager kissed her on the head and kissed her on the head again a couple of months later. In July 1990, the assistant producer at WUSA-TV inquired if Norman could work on a Saturday. When Norman tried to change the topic by responding that she had a boy friend, the producer inquired "Who's better, him or me?" A couple of weeks later, the assistant news director asked Norman to work on the 11:00 P.M. news show though the plaintiff contends that there was no work to be done on that shift. In late 1990, the same production manager kissed her for the third time, this time on the side of her head in an elevator. The following summer, a WUSA-TV news director said to another employee, in the plaintiff's presence, that women should not be allowed on the golf course. In the fall of that year, a reporter said to her as they passed in the hall, "let's go away for the weekend and make mad passionate love." In the winter of 1991, an assistant news director asked Norman to get video tapes of war weaponry. When she inquired if he wanted those of American or British weaponry, he responded that she should give both tapes to another tape editor for review, implying that as a woman, he could not trust her judgment. In the spring of 1992, Norman saw other employees in an editing booth viewing videotape. Since it was unusual for that many persons to view a tape together, Norman stopped to join the viewing and saw on the video a naked woman pulling a reporter's pants down. In the summer of 1992, the news director inquired of a recently married male, again in the plaintiff's presence, whether he was training his wife properly.

 Over a year later, in September and October of 1993, the plaintiff says that an assistant news director commented to her on three separate occasions that she looked nice and on another occasion that he was pleased with her work. On still another occasion during the same time period, Norman wore a T-shirt covered by a sweater to work, and the assistant news director inquired what was written on the T-shirt. When the plaintiff responded "Mazda LPGA," [Mazda Ladies Professional Golf Association] the director asked her to demonstrate her golf swing.

 The defendants contend that no reasonable person could find these sporadic, innocuous incidents and remarks severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment which altered the conditions of the plaintiff's employment. The defendants also contend that these hostile work environment claims are barred by the one year statute of limitations governing claims under the DCHRA. See D.C. Code § 1-2544(a); Davis v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 449 A.2d 278 (D.C. 1982) (one year limitations period applies to actions at law commenced under the DCHRA.)

 With regard to the disparate treatment claims, the plaintiff contends that she has been discriminated against because of her gender in shift assignments which required her to work six days or more in a row on many occasions without overtime compensation. Norman also alleges gender discrimination evidenced by defendants failure to give her photographic assignments; failure to provide her with the opportunity to participate in doing "series work," and gender discrimination evidenced by the defendants compensating her at a salary less than that paid to male editors.

 The defendants contends that they have advanced legitimate non-discriminatory business reasons for the alleged disparate treatment and that the plaintiff has not carried her burden of showing that its defenses are pretextural. Therefore, the defendants argue, they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

 Discussion

 The DCHRA provides that it shall be an unlawful employment practice:

 
(1) To fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any individual; or otherwise to discriminate against any individual, with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including promotion; or to limit, segregate, or classify his employee in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual ...

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