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Williams v. Verizon Washington

June 5, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Raneene Williams sues Verizon Washington, D.C., Inc. ("Verizon"), alleging that she has suffered discrimination from a sexually hostile workplace and a retaliatory discharge after she complained. Following full discovery, Verizon has now filed for summary judgment, which Ms. Williams opposes.

Having carefully considered the briefs, depositions, discovery materials and other pleadings of record, the Court concludes that Verizon's motion should be granted.

Background Facts

Ms. Williams worked as a Maintenance Administrator for Verizon in the Potomac Business Customer Repair Service Center in Washington, D.C. Her job entailed taking telephone-line repair calls from business customers and entering that information into a computer database. Tawanda Stewart was Ms. Williams's direct supervisor and Percy Covington was another first-line supervisor in the Service Center. Toni Newkirk was the Manager of the Service Center.

Ms. Williams was hired on January 3, 2000, and terminated on October 18, 2000. There is no material issue about the quality of her performance on the job. Verizon asserts that Ms. Williams was terminated for failing to meet the attendance and punctuality requirements of the job.*fn1 Ms. Williams has admitted that she accrued at least twenty (20) absences and ten (10) tardy arrivals/early departures that advanced her through Verizon's four-step Regional Attendance Plan ("Attendance Plan") and that all but one of these absences and tardy incidents were "chargeable" under the Plan. See Plaintiff's Admissions at ## 3, 11, 16, 31, 50, 52, 55, 63, 69, 72, 75, 78, 81, 84, 87, and 90.*fn2 Under the Attendance Plan, a manager considers whether termination is the appropriate discipline once an employee reaches the fourth step. See Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. 8, Regional Attendance Plan.

Ms. Williams asserts that her tenure with Verizon was marred by quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII's proscription against sex discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. §2000(e) et seq. In response to interrogatories, she described the relevant incidents:

On June 26, 2000, Percy Covington approached my desk and poked me in the side. My back was to Mr. Covington. I jumped and turned towards him indicating that I was startled [and] he said, "I know, I can tell by the way the hairs on your neck stood up." On more than one occasion Mr. Covington has said to me, "oh you can get it" and when I asked, "get what?" his reply was, "oh you know what I am talking about." On September 8, 2000, during a conversation with Mr. Covington he said to me, "I know you want me." He admitted to me that he wanted me "from the time [I] came to the floor." He then asked me, "don't you want me?" Later that day at his cubicle Mr. Covington asked me if I could get a hotel room for him [at the Embassy Suites where I work] and I said, "sure, just let me know when," and he said, "whenever you're available." I told him I would get him a room, but I would not join him. He then said, "you should go to your desk because if you stay here any longer people may think we were doing something back here." While passing my desk throughout the night Mr. Covington continued to state to me, "I know you want me."

Interr. Answ. at # 1. The remarks "oh you can get it" made by Mr. Covington prior to September 8, 2000, were perceived as jokes by Ms. Williams at the time. Williams Dep. at 146-47. These comments had no effect on her personal work environment. Id. at 151-52.*fn3

The incidents on September 8, 2000, had a more upsetting and direct effect. As summarized above, Mr. Covington talked with Ms. Williams at her work station about her dissatisfaction with her job and her desires to do something else. At the end of this conversation, Mr. Covington allegedly said, "let me ask you something... you want me, don't you?" Williams Dep. at 142. Ms. Williams "didn't say yes, [] didn't say no." Id. at 143. Later that day, when talking with Mr. Covington at his work station, the subject of Ms. Williams's second job at the Embassy Suites hotel came up. Mr. Covington allegedly asked, "Can you get me a room?" Id. at 332. When Ms. Williams asked, "When?" he alleged replied, "Whenever you're available." Id. Ms. Williams says she declined and left his work station. Id. Mr. Covington thereafter repeated the "You know you want me" comments two or three times during the evening shift on September 8, 2000. He made no overtures to Ms. Williams after September 8th.

Monday, September 11, 2000, was the next work day. On that day, Ms. Williams made a personal call from her work station, which is forbidden by the Verizon work rules. Plaintiff's Admissions at # 99; Williams Dep. at 341-42. Ms. Newkirk observed this call from the "force room" where calls are monitored. Because Ms. Stewart, Ms. Williams's direct supervisor, was "not there at the moment" and Mr. Covington "was in the force room," Ms. Newkirk directed Mr. Covington to tell Ms. Williams to end her personal call. Newkirk Dep. at 103-04. There is some dispute as to the extent of this incident. Ms. Newkirk states that she observed Ms. Williams get right back on the call after Mr. Covington had told her to get off. Newkirk Decl. ¶ 4. Ms. Williams asserts that "[m]y personal call was made prior to Percy [Covington] approaching me" but does not address whether she remained on the line afterward or called a second time on personal business. Plaintiff's Admissions at # 100 (emphasis added). Her union representative later argued that Ms. Williams did not make two calls because she "never terminated the call when [Mr. Covington] left her desk [but]... resumed the call." Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. 6, Grievance Notes at 1764. In any event, Ms. Williams was suspended for five days for this incident. Mr. Covington informed her of the suspension.

Ms. Williams asserts that she suffered further harassment of a non-sexual nature afterward.

On September 19, 2000, Mr. Covington asked her, when she was away from her work station, "Are you on break?" It turned out that Ms. Williams had failed to log out correctly and appeared to be still at work. Williams Dep. at 323-24. On September 20, Mr. Covington told her that she "had been in wrap for thirty five minutes." Interr. Answ. at # 4.*fn4 On September 19, 2000, Ms. Williams was called by Kelly Adrea, the supervisor of the "force room," to advise that she was "in wrap for seven minutes" and that she should call for assistance if she needed help. Id. Ms. Adrea was responsible for "monitor[ing] the length of a call," including wrap. Williams. Dep. at 384. Ms. Stewart is alleged to have engaged in three incidents of harassment. First, she is alleged to have monitored Ms. Williams's calls at the beginning of the shift on September 21, 2000, right after Ms. Williams talked with Ms. Stewart about Mr. Covington. Interr. Answ. at # 4 ("I informed her that I was tired of Mr. Covington bothering me."). Second, on October 12, 2000, Ms. Stewart allegedly delivered a performance report (called a "report card") to Ms. Williams at her work station without stopping to talk about it, as she allegedly stopped to talk to other employees. Williams Dep. at 190-96. The report card reflected a rating of "Meets Some" performance criteria instead of "Meets All," as Ms. Steward had earlier told Ms. Williams she would be receiving. Interr. Answ. at # 8. Third, on October 21, Ms. Stewart is alleged to have talked with Eva Banks, who thereafter commented audibly to another employee that "'[S]he, meaning [Ms. Williams], is jealous of Tawanda's relationship with Mr. Covington, and that [Ms. Williams] should not play with Mr. Covington's job because he has a family to take care of.'" Id. Coordinator Reginald Baker is also alleged to have harassed Ms. Williams when, on September 28, 2000, he "advise[d Ms. Williams] that [she] was in wrap for nine minutes." Id. at # 4. Ms. Williams argues that "the behavior towards me from Tawanda [Stewart] is because she is currently in a relationship with Percy [Covington]; from Kelly [Adrea] because they used to be in a relationship." Opp., Ex. 14, Williams EEOC Charging Questionnaire. She does not allege any personal relationship between Mr. Covington and Mr. Baker.

Ms. Williams filed an internal EEO charge on September 28, 2000. Prior to that date, Ms. Williams had not told anyone in a management position at Verizon that Mr. Covington had made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to her or touched her inappropriately. Plaintiff's Admissions at ## 109, 110.*fn5 The EEO charge became known to Ms. Williams's immediate supervisors within days. Ms. Newkirk advised Mr. Covington to have no contact with Ms. Williams. Newkirk Dep. at 70. Mr. Covington told Mses. Stewart and Adrea about the EEO charge on the day that he heard of it. Covington Dep. at 138-39. Mr. Covington and Mses. Stewart and Adrea were social friends outside the office. Id. at 119-120.

Ms. Williams advanced to the fourth step of the Attendance Plan on October 18, 2000. Pursuant to the Plan, Ms. Newkirk reviewed her attendance record and concluded that Verizon had "been more than fair for an employee with less tha[n] one [year's] service." Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. 10. After consulting with Labor Relations, Ms. Newkirk terminated Ms. Williams. Newkirk Decl. ¶¶ 10, 11; Newkirk Dep. at 134-137, 141.

Legal Standard

Summary judgment is not a "disfavored procedural shortcut" but, rather, can be an appropriate way to resolve litigation without the time and expense of trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). Summary judgment should be entered when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56. Material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact is in dispute, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255; see also Washington Post Co. v. U.S. Dep't. of Health and Human Serv., 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). Where the non-movant bears the burden of proof, the non-movant may not rely on conclusory allegations, but must present specific facts from which a reasonable jury could conclude in the non-movant's favor. See Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

This case must also be decided under the legal standards of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. In 1998 twin decisions, the Supreme Court clarified the law in the area of Title VII jurisprudence dealing with sexual harassment. See Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998); Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998). In general, quid pro quo relates to sexual harassment through threats of retaliation that are actually carried out. Gary v. Long, 595 F.3d 1391, 1395 (D.C. Cir. 1995) ("The gravaman of a quid pro quo claim is that a tangible job benefit or privilege is conditioned on an employee's submission to sexual blackmail and that adverse consequences flow from the employee's refusal.") (citations omitted). If there is no tangible employment action, "bothersome attentions or sexual remarks that are sufficiently severe or pervasive... create a hostile work environment." Burlington Indus., 524 U.S. at 751. In either event, "Title VII is violated by either explicit or constructive alterations in the terms or conditions of employment... [but] the latter must be severe or pervasive." Id. at 752. "[I]ncidents of environmental sexual harassment 'must be more than episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive.'" Faragher, 524 U.S. at 787 n.1 (citing Carrero v. N.Y. City Housing Auth., 890 F.2d 569, 577 (2d Cir. 1989)). "[A] sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so." Id. at 776; see also Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21-22 (1993). In evaluating a claim of sexual harassment, the Supreme Court has directed the lower courts to "'look[] at all the circumstances,' including the 'frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.'" Faragher, 524 U.S. at 787-88 (citing Harris, 510 U.S. at 21-23). "[C]onduct must be extreme to amount to a change in the terms and conditions of employment." Id. at 788.

An employer may defend against a showing of hostile work environment caused by sexual harassment by demonstrating that there was no hostile work environment or, as an affirmative defense, "(a) that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and (b) that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise." Id. at 807. "No affirmative defense is available, however, when the supervisor's harassment culminates in a ...

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