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JONES v. POTTER

January 22, 2004.

Milford S. Jones, Plaintiff,
v.
John E. Potter, Post Master General, United States Postal Service, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This lawsuit involves claims of sexual harassment and retaliation. The defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment regarding Plaintiff's claims. The Court will grant this motion for the reasons set forth below.

I. Factual Background

  The facts pertaining to this case are relatively straightforward. At the time the events pertinent to this matter occurred, plaintiff, Milford Jones, was employed by the defendant, the United States Postal Service, as a material handler, Grade Level PS-4, at the Brentwood postal facility located in the District of Columbia. Complaint filed on September 10, 2001 ("Compl.") ¶ 9.*fn1 On October 23, 2000, plaintiff was working in the Brentwood facility's stock room, talking to several co-workers, when James Wallace, the stock room manager, allegedly "sexual[ly] assault[ed]" plaintiff. Id. ¶ 11. Specifically, Page 2 plaintiff alleges that Mr. Wallace

 
came up behind [him], grabbed his arms, pulled Mr. Jones toward him, and rubbed his penis against Mr. Jones' buttocks. Mr. Jones pulled away from Supervisor Wallace, but before Mr. Jones could turn around, Supervisor Wallace pulled Mr. Jones back toward him, and rubbed his penis against Mr. Jones' buttocks again. Mr. Jones broke away from Supervisor Wallace's grip and got away from him.
Id.*fn2 Plaintiff states that this incident occurred in full view of his co-workers and the incident was "non-consensual, and extremely humiliating and embarrassing." Id. Plaintiff states that Mr. Wallace is a homosexual,*fn3 while he is a heterosexual and Page 3 married. Id.

  On the same day as the incident occurred, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Postal Service's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff alleges that after he filed his charge of discrimination, the "[d]efendant embarked on a campaign of retaliation against [him]." Id. ¶ 13. This "campaign of retaliation" allegedly included

 
harassing [plaintiff] on a daily basis; the elimination of his cubicle work area; denying [plaintiff] the opportunity to work overtime hours which he frequently worked prior to the initiation of EEO proceedings[,] thus[] reducing [p]laintiff's work hours and thereby causing him to lose overtime compensation; etc.
Id. ¶ 13. Based on the above allegations, plaintiff filed his two-count complaint in this Court alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (2000). He seeks $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages; a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendant from future sexual harassment or retaliation; Mr. Wallace's dismissal, transfer or Page 4 reassignment to ensure that plaintiff never works with Mr. Wallace again;*fn4 a letter from defendant apologizing for the sexual harassment and retaliatory actions; any overtime compensation plaintiff may have obtained but for the defendant's retaliatory conduct; the re-establishment of Plaintiff's cubicle work station, medical expenses, and the costs of bringing this action.

  II. Analysis

 A. Standard of Review

  As already indicated, this matter is currently before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge. . . ." Id. at 255. The entry of summary judgment is appropriate after there has been an "adequate time for discovery . . . [and the] party [against whom the motion has been filed] fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will Page 5 bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When reviewing the evidence, the Court must draw "all inferences . . . in favor of the nonmoving party[.]" Coward v. ADT Security Systems, Inc., 194 F.3d 155, 158 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Aka v. Washington HOSP. Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1295 (D.C. Cir. 1998).

 B. Plaintiff's Sexual Harassment Claim

  The October 23 incident comprises the sole incident*fn5 of sexually harassing behavior that plaintiff alleges in his complaint.*fn6 Defendant advances two arguments regarding why summary judgment should be entered in its favor on this count of the complaint. First, defendant argues that the plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the alleged sexual harassment was "motivated by Mr. Wallace's sexual desire." Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem.") at 10. Rather, defendant argues, "Mr. Wallace's actions were in the nature of horseplay." Id. at 11. Second, the defendant argues that plaintiff cannot demonstrate "that the alleged conduct was sufficiently severe or persuasive to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment that altered the conditions of [plaintiff's] employment." Id. at 13. In opposition, plaintiff argues that his claim is sufficient to withstand summary judgment because this one incident was clearly based on sex, and was so "outrageous, offensive, unwelcome, and egregious" that the event, standing Page 6 alone, constitutes a violation of Title VII. Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 23. Alternatively, plaintiff argues that he has presented sufficient facts and evidence from which this Court can conclude that he was the victim of a hostile working environment. Id. at 24.

  In Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 82 (1998), the Supreme Court acknowledged "that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex harassment is actionable under Title VII. . . ." In this acknowledgment, the Court was careful to emphasize that claims of same-sex harassment remain subject to the identical requirements as claims of opposite-sex harassment; namely, a plaintiff making either type of sexual harassment claim "must always prove that the conduct at issue . . . actually constituted `discrimina[tion] . . . because of . . . sex.'" Id. at 81. Thus, to establish his claim of "same-sex harassment, [the] court[] first must determine whether the harasser's conduct constitutes sex discrimination." La Day v. Catalyst Technology, Inc., 302 F.3d 474, 478 (5th Cir. 2002). If this determination is answered in the affirmative,

  the court must decide whether the challenged conduct meets the applicable standards for either a quid pro quo[*fn7] or hostile environment claim. For example, same-sex harassment that is `severe or pervasive' enough to create a hostile environment . . . might be excluded from the coverage of [T]itle VII because it was not discriminatory on the basis of sex. On the other hand, same-sex harassment that is indisputably ...


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