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Williams v. United Launch Alliance, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

February 6, 2018

DEB ORAH WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED LAUNCH ALLIANCE, LLC, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND DISMISSAL ORDER

          HERMAN N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This civil action proceeds before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 21). In its Motion, Defendant argues that there exist no genuine issues of material fact supporting Plaintiffs claims of hostile work environment and negligent supervision, and therewith Defendant deserves judgment as a matter of law pursuant to the prevailing legal standards governing the claims. The court finds that Plaintiff suffered sexual harassment, but the Eleventh Circuit standard prevents this court from finding that she suffered a hostile work environment. Based upon the following discussion, the court GRANTS the motion.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.RCiv.P. Rule 56(a). Defendant, as the party seeking summary judgment, bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).

         Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who 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 bear the burden of proof at trial" Cellotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "In such a situation, there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact, ' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 322-23. In addition, a movant may prevail on summary judgment by submitting evidence "negating [an] opponent's claim, " that is, by producing materials disproving an essential element of a non-movant's claim or defense. Id. at 323 (emphasis in original).

         A non-moving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact by producing evidence by which a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg v. BellSouth Tekcomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The "court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (citations omitted). '"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. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty hobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). "Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151 (citation omitted). "That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that 'evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'" Id. (citation omitted).

         Background

         The undersigned sets forth the following facts for the summary judgment determination, drawn from the evidence taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff

         Plaintiff Deborah Williams began working at Defendant United Launch Alliance, Inc., (ULA) as an aerospace production technician in November 2010. As part of her hiring, Williams joined the Internal Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union ("IAM"). I AM represents ULA's production technicians under a collective bargaining agreement that the union maintains with ULA. IAM also declared to Williams and her coworkers that they should bring any concerns or problems related to their employment with ULA to IAM, and IAM would then voice the concerns to ULA on the workers' behalf.

         During Williams's initial orientation at ULA, ULA introduced Williams to the company's anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. ULA's policies state that any employee who believes she has been harassed by anyone in the workplace should report the matter to management or Human Resources. Williams also received periodic refreshers of these policies, including a session in November 2012, and understood that she should follow these policies if she believed she had been harassed in the workplace.

         ULA assigned Williams to work in the multi-layer insulation blanket shop ("blanket shop"), where Williams works with sewing machines and hand tools. Because ULA designated the blanket shop as a "clean room", ULA required Williams, as well as the other employees who worked in the blanket shop, to wear specific garments to ensure that the room remained sanitized and contaminant-free. Around August 2011, Brad Hawkins began serving as the blanket shop supervisor.

         Towards the end of 2011, Hawkins began to sexually harass Williams. The harassment began with sexually evocative facial gestures at Williams while he squeezed oil bottles and said something along the lines of "ooh, this is juicy." Although Williams tried to ignore him, these types of comments occurred repeatedly. Around the same time, Hawkins told Williams and a coworker a joke about cows having sex. Williams tried to deflect and told Hawkins that the joke was inappropriate. Throughout the end of 2011, Mr. Hawkins continued to sexually harass Williams and her coworkers with sexual innuendos and facial gestures, though Williams could not recall the details of these innuendos.

         Williams took two leaves-of-absence in 2012 due to health problems. Upon her return from her first leave of absence in July 2012, Hawkins approached Williams from behind as she returned to her workstation from a break and informed her that he was doing a "butt block" for her. Williams grew uncomfortable and asked Hawkins what he meant, and he stated that he would block her butt so that nobody else could see it. Williams expressed her discomfort with the statement and told him to cease the remarks. During this same time period, Hawkins told Williams that she needed a "sugar daddy" and a "work husband, " and that he could be hers. In an attempt to deter him from making further comments, Williams stated that she did not need one.

         After she returned to work in October 2012 following her second leave-of-absence, Hawkins commented to Williams on two separate occasions that he asked a physician to place an extra stitch in his spouse's vagina to make it tighter for him after childbirth. Each time, Williams expressed her discomfort with Hawkins about those comments. During this same time period, Hawkins made a comment to Williams about how he would allegedly not allow her to work in another department because another employee, Jonathan, was known as a "hound dog" and he did not want Williams around Jonathan. Hawkins also frequently discussed Jonathan's sexual exploits around Williams, who felt increasingly uncomfortable with these comments and informed Hawkins about her discomfort.

         Around Christmas 2012, Hawkins joked that he remained unsure about letting Williams complete overtime work in a different department because the male workers in that area would want to see her "down on all fours." Williams responded to the comment, and Hawkins laughed and repeated himself.

         During the first few months of 2013, Hawkins addressed work quality issues with the employees in Williams's department. In April 2013, Williams and her coworkers noticed that Hawkins performed work on sewing machines that ULA reserved for union members. Around the same time, Williams and her coworkers approached an IAM representative to express their concerns about Hawkins's behavior. (Ex. A 65:6-23, 89:3-22, Ex. B). On April 30, 2013, two IAM union stewards notified Hawkins's supervisor, John Heslop, that they needed a meeting to discuss the concerns regarding Hawkins's behavior.

         On May 6, 2013, two IAM union stewards met with Heslop and Cindy Lovell of ULA's human resources department to discuss the concerns that Williams and her coworkers shared about Hawkins's behavior. Without providing specific examples, the stewards notified ULA that Hawkins created a hostile work environment by uttering sexually explicit remarks that discomforted Williams and her coworkers.

         On May 14, 2013, ULA commenced an investigation into the allegations that the union stewards brought forth during their meeting. Lovell served as the case manager for this investigation and interviewed Williams and five of her product technician coworkers. ULA ensured that at least one IAM union representative sat in on every interview. Lovell asked each individual the same questions regarding Hawkins's behavior and his treatment of the employees he supervised. Four of the product technician workers, including Williams, commented on Hawkins's unethical behavior in the workshop and his issuance of corrective orders to the technicians when he found mistakes in their work. Williams, along with two of her coworkers, told Lovell that Hawkins made sexual comments to them. The two workers could not corroborate many of Williams's statements about what Hawkins said to her, but one of them had overheard Hawkins telling Williams that she needed a work husband.

         In her interview with Lovell Williams explained her concerns about Hawkins's untrustworthiness, his sharing of information about coworkers who were on leave, his working on sewing machines that ULA reserved for union work, and other workplace issues. Lovell also asked Williams whether Hawkins uttered any sexual comments towards her, and she mentioned three of the instances detailed above: (1) the "juicy" comment; (2) the "hound dog" comment; and (3) the vague joke about cows. However, the day after her interview, Williams sent Lovell an email adding two additional comments that Hawkins made to her: (1) the "butt block" comment; and (2) that Hawkins believed that the company did not need a union. Over the course of the investigation, Lovell expressed concerns about Hawkins's trustworthiness and honesty.

         On June 18, 2013, an I AM representative emailed Darryl Boykins, a Human Resources Business Partner at ULA, with concerns about ULA's lack of action regarding the charges of sexual harassment against Mr. Hawkins. The following day, Lovell interviewed Hawkins and he denied the allegations. At the conclusion of her part in the investigation, Lovell documented her findings and determined that she could not find Williams's comments credible. Lovell based her determination on (1) Williams's interview; (2) Hawkins's denials, (3) the belief that some of Hawkins's comments were not sexual; (4) the lack of witnesses who could corroborate Hawkins's comments; and (5) the fact that Williams did not directly report the comments to ULA's human resources department.

         Lovell turned her final report over to ULA's Employee Corrective Action Review Team (ECART) for review. ECART consists of a panel of individuals who review an investigator's findings and issue recommendations for corrective action. ECART initially believed that Williams and her coworkers' complaints regarding Hawkins lacked credibility because (1) none of the employees that Hawkins supervised reported any of the alleged comments to Human Resources, which company policy requires; (2) the union did not lodge the complaints remotely contemporaneous to the period Hawkins uttered the remarks; and (3) the union lodged the complaints close to the period Hawkins criticized the workers' performance.

         Boykins, an ECART member and Lovell's supervisor at the time, interviewed Hawkins. Boykins eventually found Hawkins's denials credible and reported this finding to ECART when it met again. ECART concluded that Williams's claims remained unsubstantiated; nevertheless, ECART issued an anti-harassment policy coaching to Hawkins that remained in his personnel file. Heslop administered this coaching to Hawkins in July 2013, and Williams testified that Hawkins did not utter any sexually suggestive comments after that time.

         Throughout her employment with ULA, Williams received two verbal coachings for mistakes in her work, yet Williams never received any pay reduction, suspension, or formal discipline as a result of these verbal coachings. Moreover, ULA has never issued any formal or written discipline against Williams.. Although Williams has remained continuously employed at ULA without any position change, Williams asserts that ULA retaliated against her by failing to hire her for any of the ten jobs that she applied for with ULA and The Boeing Company, one of ULA's parent companies, from 2011 to 2015.

         In 2013, ULA discerned a potential contamination issue with a blanket shop product under Hawkins's supervision. Jan Garber, ULA's Ethics Officer, investigated the issue and presented her findings to ECART. Her findings documented Hawkins's dishonesty and numerous policy violations that stemmed from his actions following the blanket room contamination. Based on these findings, ECART terminated Hawkins's employment in January 2014.

         With the encouragement of the I AM union stewards, Williams filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in September 2013. On June 26, 2015, the EEOC issued its determination and concluded that Hawkins sexually harassed Williams, and that his conduct created a hostile work environment because it was sufficiently severe and pervasive. The EEOC further concluded that ULA failed to take reasonable care to correct the harassment once it obtained corroborating information. The EEOC issued Williams her right to sue ...


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