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TATUM v. HYATT CORP.

November 16, 1994

CAMELLE TATUM, Plaintiff,
v.
HYATT CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE

 This is an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, alleging sexual harassment and also raising a number of common law claims. The matter is here on defendants' motion for summary judgment.

 I

 On January 29, 1992, plaintiff was employed as a deli attendant at Zephyr's Deli in the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel. According to the complaint, Michael Moussara, who held the position of Executive Steward at the Hotel, unexpectedly wrapped his arms around her neck and body, rubbing against her as if to stimulate a sex act, made comments about her physical attractiveness, and otherwise harassed her sexually. Plaintiff cried out to a co-worker for help, but Moussara merely laughed. Eventually, plaintiff got away, but not before Moussara was able to place a piece of ice in plaintiff's front skirt pocket. Plaintiff reported the episode to a supervisor, the employment manager of Hyatt, and others shortly after the incident. According to the complaint, plaintiff continues to suffer significant physical and mental injuries.

 Plaintiff filed a complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and that agency granted her the right to sue. Thereafter, she filed this action, and eventually defendants moved for summary judgment. It is that motion, and various oppositions and other papers filed by the parties, that are now before the Court.

 II

 Plaintiff's essential theories of the case against Hyatt are (1) that the hotel corporation was responsible for a hostile environment of sexual harassment, (2) that the corporation should have but did not take action, and (3) that because Moussara was plaintiff's supervisor, the corporation is responsible for his improper activities.

 Hyatt's affidavits, which are essentially uncontradicted, demonstrate the corporation's high degree of awareness of the dangers of sexual harassment and its action in taking prompt and reasonable steps as it was made aware of plaintiff's experience on January 29, 1992.

 Hyatt's "Corporate Ethics Statement" contains explicit prohibitions of sexual harassment, including explanations that such conduct includes unwelcome sexual advances and physical contact; requests for sexual favors; sexually-oriented verbal abuse; tasteless sexually-oriented comments and jokes; extension of unwanted sexual attention; and a work environment that is intimidating or offensive because of sexually-oriented conversations, demands, or physical contacts. Each manager must sign this policy statement once a year.

 Hyatt's activities following the report regarding the harassment of plaintiff may be summarized as follows. An internal investigation was conducted under the direction of the Hotel's Director of Human Resources. That investigation included the securing of statements on the day of the incident from Moussara and several witnesses, and the securing of an additional statement from another employee the following day. Moussara's statement averred that he did no more than to place his hands on plaintiff's shoulders, asking her how she was doing. This version was supported by two of the eye-witnesses to the event, while plaintiff's version was supported by the third witness.

 Plaintiff herself did not return to work after January 29, 1992, and it therefore became impossible to secure further details from her; Moussara, by contrast, cooperated fully with the investigation. Hyatt also considered that the incident had occurred in an area that is in plain view of the public, and that Moussara had never previously been charged with any kind of sexual harassment. Plaintiff, on the other hand, had been previously involved in issues with the Human Resources Department which personnel of that department raised questions concerning her reliability.

 Nevertheless, the Director of that department conducted a meeting concerning the matter. Several efforts to have plaintiff come in to the Hotel either to work or to discuss the incident and her status were entirely unsuccessful, and on March 13, 1992, plaintiff was terminated. In August of that year plaintiff made a claim: for Workers' Compensation benefits that relied on an asserted disability arising out of the January 29 incident.

 It is of course well settled that it is an essential element of a sexual harassment claim, inter alia, that the employer failed to take appropriate action in response to a report of such activity. See, e.g., 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(d); Robinson v. Thornburgh, 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18133, 54 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 324, 326 (D.D.C. 1990). Here, the Hotel took prompt action to investigate, and remedy if ...


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