United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
a sexual harassment case brought by Brandi Curry against Koch
Foods, Inc., and Alex Huddleston. (Doc. 1). Against Koch
Foods, Curry asserts claims for “hostile work
environment” sexual harassment in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title
VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.;
retaliation in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. §
1981; and state law negligence. (Id. at 8-9, 11,
13). Against Huddleston, Curry asserts state law claims for
invasion of privacy and assault. (Id. at 12-13).
Additionally, Curry seeks to impose liability on Koch Foods
for Huddleston's intentional torts. (Id.).
Pending before the undersigned are motions for summary
judgment filed by Koch Foods and Huddleston. (Docs. 37 &
43). For the reasons discussed below, Koch Foods' motion
is due to be denied in part and granted in part, and
Huddleston's motion is due to be denied.
was hired by Koch Foods on September 4, 2014, to work as a
General Laborer at its Ashland, Alabama poultry processing
plant and assigned to the evisceration department in November
2014. (Doc. 45-1 at 18-19). She was promoted to the position
of Inspector Helper in that department on June 2, 2015.
(Id. at 19). An Inspector Helper is a Koch
Foods' employee who works next to an employee of the
federal government known as a United States Department of
Agriculture Inspector (“USDA Inspector”) on a
production line at the plant. (Id. at 21-23). From
one side of a stand, the USDA Inspector inspects birds coming
down a line and signals to the Inspector Helper on the other
side of the stand which birds to mark for trimming or send to
“washout.” (Id. at 22-23, 32-33, 65;
Doc. 46-2 at 119). Koch Foods' job description for
Inspector Helpers states these employees “follow the
government inspector's instructions to properly mark
and/or pull below standard birds from the processing
line.” (Doc. 46-2 at 119). Koch Foods cannot run its
production lines without USDA oversight. (Doc. 45-1 at 22).
In both her position as a General Laborer and an Inspector
Helper, Curry worked the third shift, which ran from
approximately 8:43 P.M. to 5:45 A.M. (Id. at 18-19,
the time in question, Huddleston was a USDA Inspector
assigned to Koch Foods' Ashland plant. (Doc. 45-2 at 5).
He worked the first shift, which ran from approximately 5:45
A.M. to 2:15 P.M. (Id. at 11). However, he sometimes
began his shift approximately 30 minutes early. (Id.
at 5, 11). When he did so, his shift overlapped with
Curry's shift for approximately 30 minutes. (Id.
at 12; Doc. 45-1 at 21, 24). Both as a General Laborer and as
an Inspector Helper, Curry sometimes worked alongside
Huddleston when he began his shift early. (Doc. 45-1 at 21,
testified she initially got along well with Huddleston.
(Id. at 25). A few weeks after Curry first worked
with Huddleston, he asked her whether she was in a
relationship with a female Koch Foods' employee named
Brandy. (Id. at 25-26). This question did not bother
Curry. (Id. at 26). Huddleston also told Curry he
had undergone a surgery on his “private area, ”
his “dick didn't work, ” he “didn't
have anything going on  down there, ” and he loved
oral sex. (Id. at 26, 59). These comments did not make
her uncomfortable. (Id. at 26-27). Curry felt like
Huddleston was just a friend sharing this information with
her. (Id. at 26). Curry testified Huddleston began
making inappropriate comments after he heard she was in a
relationship with a female Koch Foods' employee named Dee
Dee. (Id. at 26).
Huddleston's Comments and Conduct Between September 2014
and November 2015
testified that between the time she was hired and the time
she was promoted to the position of Inspector Helper,
Huddleston made the following unwelcome comments to her:
• He asked her whether her “pussy ha[d] a smell,
” told her she didn't have a “smell down
there, ” and told her his wife “has smell when
y'all do that little thing y'all do.”
(Id. at 27, 57). She told him that was her personal
business and that what she had going on in her bedroom was
her business. (Id. at 27).
• When he saw Dee Dee, a female Koch Foods' employee
with whom Curry was in a relationship, he told Curry she and
Dee Dee could use some help in the bedroom and that
“[he] bet [he] could eat [her] pussy better than Dee
Dee.” (Id. at 26-28). During this encounter,
he simulated oral sex with his tongue. (Id. at 45).
She asked him not to say that and to please stop talking to
her like that. (Id. at 26).
• He told her she would rebuff him at first like a black
female named Brenda but that she would “fold, ”
stating he “turned [Brenda] out to the point where she
came and knocked on [his] door,  knowing [he] was
married.” (Id. at 27).
• He asked her why she was a lesbian several times and
told her he had told his niece who was a lesbian that
“it is absolutely nasty.” (Id. at 28).
Curry said, “[H]ow about we just don't even talk
about it period.” (Id.).
• He asked her whether she had any pictures and told her
he could give her his e-mail address so that she could send
pictures to him. (Id.). She told him she would not
do that. (Id.).
• He told her a white Koch Foods' employee named
Cindy had adopted one or more children and needed help and
that he was going to help Cindy. (Id.) Later, he
told her he was not going to help Cindy because Cindy
“[was] not talking about opening her legs.”
• After Curry asked him why he continued to talk to her
“like that, ” he told her that she, like Brenda,
would “fold.” (Id.).
testified that between June 2015 and November 2015,
Huddleston engaged in the following unwelcome conduct:
• After Curry told Huddleston that his wife was
beautiful - Huddleston had shown a picture of his family to
Curry - Huddleston said, “[N]ot as beautiful as you, I
could just reach over there and bite that lip.”
(Id. at 28-29).
• In the process of reaching to get a piece of paper, he
hit her breast with his arm while he was “looking dead
at [her], ” which led Curry to believe he did it on
purpose. (Id. at 29).
testified Huddleston made sexual comments to her all the
time. (Id. at 27). She also testified that no matter
what she talked about or did while working alongside
Huddleston, “[H]e [went] back to sex. He [was] going to
bring sex out of it.” (Id. at 29).
Curry's November 2015 Complaint
Foods' Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment Policy
permits an employee to report harassment “by any 
person with whom the employee has contact as a result of
their employment, ” orally or in writing, and
designates a number of individuals for receiving harassment
complaints, including a Shift Manager. (Doc. 46-2 at 78).
Curry testified other USDA Inspectors told her the government
“rules over Koch Foods” and advised her not to
say anything about Huddleston's conduct because both she
and Huddleston would probably be fired. (Doc. 45-1 at 33).
in early November 2015, Curry spoke with her supervisor,
Carolyn Richey, about Huddleston's behavior.
(Id. at 29-31, 35-36). Curry told Richey that
Huddleston was making sexual comments to her and sexually
harassing her, she did not like talking about sex every day,
and she did not want to work with Huddleston. (Id.
at 29, 31, 35). Curry told Richey everything Huddleston had
said to her and also told Richey that Huddleston had
simulated oral sex. (Id. at 39, 46). Richey said she
did not have any control over who the USDA sent to work at
the plant but that she would speak with the Night Shift
Manager, Jeff Hawkins, about Huddleston's behavior and
let Hawkins know Curry did not want to work with Huddleston
because he was making her uncomfortable. (Id. at 31,
35). Richey did speak with Hawkins. (Doc. 45-7 at 16). Two or
three days after Curry complained to Richey, Hawkins asked
Curry to give him a few days to see what he could have done
and told her that he would get back to her. (Doc. 45-1 at 31,
The “Book Incident”
Curry complained to Richey in early November 2015, the
“book incident” happened. (Id. at 30).
Huddleston asked Curry whether she had seen the movie
“Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Id.). After
Curry responded she had seen the movie, Huddleston asked her
whether she liked it. (Id.). Curry responded
“all it was about was sex.” (Id.).
Huddleston told Curry the book on which the movie was based
was good and very interesting. (Id.). Curry said she
did not need to read the book because she had seen the movie,
but Huddleston insisted he give Curry the book to read, after
which she could let him know what she thought about it.
(Id.). Curry was not uncomfortable that Huddleston
asked her to read the book. (Id. at 43). Huddleston
brought the book to work on November 17, 2015. (Id.
at 31, 36). Curry took the book, but she did not read it.
(Id. at 31). Instead, Curry's mother saw the
book in Curry's car and asked if she could read it.
(Id.). Curry asked Huddleston if her mother could
read the book, and Huddleston said that was not a problem and
to “take your time.” (Id.).
testified problems arose when she did not talk to Huddleston
about the book:
He would get absolute - he was like did you read this part
where, you know, he is beating her pussy out, did you see
that part where he was just - like he was just in control and
he was just beating her out and - anyway. And then he said -
I was like no, I didn't - I didn't get to that part,
I haven't got to that part yet, didn't get to that
part. It was like every day, it was like did you read this
part, this part, this part, and I'm like no, I
haven't got there yet. Got to the point where
[Huddleston] would get on the stand and I would tell him my
tooth was hurting so he wouldn't say nothing about the
(Id.). Huddleston then began asking when Curry was
going to return the book. (Id.). Curry told
Huddleston she would return the book after her mother
finished reading it. (Id.). Curry did bring the book
to work after her mother finished reading it, but she left
the book in her car. (Id.). She told Huddleston she
would give the book to the guard and he could get it from the
guard when he came in the next morning. (Id.). On
November 30, 2015, Huddleston told Curry he had checked with
the guard and that Curry had not given the book to the guard.
(Id. at 31, 60-61). He said, “If I don't
have my book, then I'm going to knock your ass
out.” (Id.). On December 1, 2015, Huddleston
came up the steps on Curry's side of the stand and said,
“[I]f you don't have my book today, I'm going
to shove my dick so far up you it's going to come out
your throat.” (Id. at 32-33, 35). Curry pulled
the book out from under her smock, shoved or slung the book
toward Huddleston, who let it hit the ground, and loudly told
Huddleston to “get out of [her] motherfucking
face.” (Id. at 32).
testified that when Huddleston made one or both of these
threats “[h]e was at [her] face, ” “was so
mad and red, ” and was “really, really
serious.” (Id. at 34). She testified
“[she] [couldn't] say that [she] thought he was
going to [carry out one or more of the threats], but he might
have - it had gotten to the point where they [were] still
allowing him to still come out there, he could have done
anything.” (Id.). She also repeatedly
testified later that she thought Huddleston was going to hurt
her, noting she worked with a long, sharp knife that was not
far from Huddleston. (Id. at 34, 65). Curry also
generally wore steel-toed boots and a full-coverage,
chainmail-type glove on her non-dominant hand when at work.
(Id. at 64-65).
testified Huddleston's actions brought back memories of a
childhood trauma that involved her being molested by a man
who drove her to preschool for two-and-a-half years because
her mother did not have a car. (Doc. 45-1 at 59). The man
stuck a rifle down her throat and told her he would
“blow her brains out” if she told anyone.
(Id.). She testified she continues to have
flashbacks and nightmares every other week, both about her
childhood trauma and Huddleston's conduct. (Id.
at 58, 60). She testified she started taking Tylenol PM to
sleep in December 2015 after Huddleston threatened her.
(Id. at 58).
Curry's December 1, 2015 Complaint & Koch Foods'
Huddleston made his December 1, 2015 threat, Curry hit a
button that called one of Huddleston's supervisors, USDA
Supervisory Veterinarian Courtney Baldwin, to the production
line. (Id. at 32). Curry told Dr. Baldwin what
Huddleston had said, that he had threatened her, and that she
was not going to work with him anymore. (Id. at
that day, Curry made a written statement. (Id. at
36-37). In the statement, Curry wrote Huddleston had
threatened her about returning the book. (Doc. 46-1 at 59).
She also wrote she had asked Huddleston whether the real
reason he was upset was not the book, but rather because she
asked another USDA Inspector not to let him on the stand
because he was “disrespectful in a sexual way.”
(Id.). Additionally, she noted several specific
sexual comments Huddleston had made to her, although not
regarding the book. (Id. at 59-60). Hawkins shared
Curry's statement with Dr. Baldwin the next day. (Doc.
45-5 at 14).
statement was also delivered to Lisa Wright, Human Resources
Manager at the Ashland plant. (Doc. 45-6 at 29-30). Wright
shared the statement with Randy Cisne, Complex Human
Resources Manager, with oversight of multiple Koch Foods'
plants, including the Ashland plant. (Id. at 30;
Doc. 45-4 at 10-11). At Cisne's direction, Wright
interviewed Curry about the contents of the statement. (Doc.
45-1 at 40-41; Doc. 45-3 at 10-11; Doc. 45-6 at
During the interview, Curry told Wright that Huddleston had
threatened her about returning the book. (Doc. 45-1 at 44).
During the same interview and a subsequent conversation that
Wright indicated was off the record, Curry also told Wright
about Huddleston's sexual comments. (Id. at
40-43). Wright believed Huddleston had sexually harassed
Curry and relayed this determination to Cisne. (Doc. 45-6 at
15, 41). Based on the investigation conducted by Wright,
Cisne also believed Huddleston had sexually harassed Curry.
(Doc. 45-4 at 15).
Foods offered to move Curry from the evisceration department
to another department within the plant, such as “live
hanging” or the “cold side.” (Doc. 45-1 at
51). Curry declined the offer because she did not think she
should have to change departments because of Huddleston's
conduct. (Id.). Instead, Koch Foods arranged for
someone to relieve Curry for the last thirty minutes of her
shift if Huddleston came in early so that Curry would not
have to interact with Huddleston. (Id. at 51-53).
Initially, Koch Foods instructed Curry to sit in the break
room until the end of her shift. (Id. at 52). Curry
was nonetheless paid for her full shift. (Id.). At
some point, Koch Foods moved Curry to a different line for
the last thirty minutes of her shift. (Id.). Curry
performed the same job and received the same pay on this
other line. (Id.). However, she was embarrassed by
having to leave her stand thirty minutes before the end of
her shift. (Id. at 53). She testified that when she
had to do so, it caused a lot of chaos; everybody looked at
her and asked her questions; she had to sit in the break room
“like [she] [was] the one [who] did something”;
and that she was “completely absolutely run off the
line.” (Id. at 49).
does not recall working with Huddleston again after December
1, 2015. (Doc. 45-1 at 49). Huddleston did make one
additional comment to Curry after that date. (Id. at
53). One morning as Curry was leaving the line, she passed
Huddleston as he was coming onto the line, and he loudly
said, “[M]onkeys don't stop my show.”
The USDA's Inquiry
USDA has a policy for handling complaints made by regulated
industry establishments like Koch Foods against employees of
the agency, referred to as Food Safety and Inspection Service
Directive 4735.7 (“FSIS Directive 4735.7” or the
“Directive”). (Doc. 46-1 at 116-120; Doc. 46-2 at
1-5). The Directive provides that an establishment may make a
formal complaint, which is generally in writing and may
require a formal inquiry and response, or an informal
complaint, which is generally verbal and addressed at the
local level. (Doc. 46-1 at 119; Doc. 46-2 at 1). After
receiving a formal, written complaint, a supervisory official
may conduct an inquiry and/or request that the Labor and
Employee Relations Division of the USDA's Employee
Relations Branch (the “LERD”) conduct a formal
investigation. (Doc. 45-3 at 9; Doc. 46-2 at 1-2). A
supervisor may receive an informal, verbal complaint. (Doc.
46-2 at 1). The Directive advises, “Resolution at the
lowest possible supervisory level is desirable and
encouraged.” (Id.). It provides an appeal
process to the extent an establishment is not satisfied with
the resolution of a complaint. (Doc. 45-3 at 42; Doc. 46-2 at
believed the USDA would be looking into Curry's
allegations against Huddleston after Curry's December 1,
2015 statement was shared with Dr. Baldwin. (Doc. 46-3 at 4).
On January 13, 2016, Cisne and Wright met with James Jordan,
a USDA Supervisory Veterinarian who directly supervised
Huddleston, because Koch Foods had not received any
communication from the USDA regarding the status of its
investigation and Huddleston continued to work overtime,
causing his and Curry's shifts to overlap. (Doc. 45-6 at
53; Doc. 46-1 at 51; 46-3 at 4). They presented the
investigation file to Dr. Jordan. (Doc. 45-6 at 53; Doc. 46-1
at 51; 46-3 at 4). Dr. Jordan told Cisne and Wright he would
provide the file to Dr. John Huie, a USDA Front Line
Supervisor who conducts inquiries into USDA Inspectors. (Doc.
46-3 at 4). At that point, Dr. Huie commenced an inquiry into
the allegations. (Doc. 45-3 at 15-16).
requested an update from Dr. Huie on February 9, 2016. Dr.
Huie told Cisne the inquiry was being processed and would
take some time to resolve. (Doc. 46-2 at 6). On March 21,
2016, Cisne notified Dr. Huie that Curry had filed an EEOC
Charge, requested another update from Dr. Huie, and asked
that the USDA ensure Huddleston was not working on
Curry's line. (Id. at 19-20).
March 23, 2016, Wright called Curry to check in and ask
whether she had had any more problems. (Doc. 45-1 at 54).
Curry told Wright people were asking a lot of questions
regarding the matter with Huddleston and that she felt
disrespected by Koch Foods and like she was not being taken
seriously. (Id.; Doc. 46-2 at 9). She also told
Wright about Huddleston's monkey comment. (Doc. 45-1 at
54; Doc. 46-2 at 9).
March 24, 2016, Dr. Huie asked Koch Foods to speak with one
of its employees named Andreal “Nikki” Cofield
about whether a USDA employee had made inappropriate comments
to her. (Doc. 46-2 at 19). Wright interviewed Cofield on
March 25, 2016. (Id. at 10). Wright's interview
notes indicate Cofield said Huddleston had made several
sexual gestures and comments to her when she worked with him
approximately two years prior; said Huddleston had made her
feel very uncomfortable by staring at her while she was
working and constantly hollering her name in an effort to get
her attention; and recalled several specific things
Huddleston had said to her and how they made her feel.
(Id.). A written statement Cofield made at the time
of Wright's interview recounts an incident where
Huddleston asked her why she was holding her shirt down to
cover her bottom, she responded she was doing so in order
that he couldn't see anything, and he replied, “
‘ Well I'm gonna stand here till you let it go
where I can see what I want.” (Id. at 11).
Cofield told Wright she contemporaneously reported
Huddleston's conduct to her supervisor and gave a
statement to Jennifer McCollough,  then the Human Resources
Manager at the Ashland plant. (Id. at 10).
McCollough asked her whether she would consider transferring
to a different department, and she accepted this offer.
(Id.). In her March 25, 2016 statement, Cofield
wrote that Huddleston gave her no more problems after the
shirt incident. (Id. at 12). Wright submitted her
interview notes and Cofield's later statement to Dr.
Huie. (Id. at 19).
interviewing Cofield, Wright found Cofield's May 2014
written statement. (Doc. 45-6 at 11-12). In the statement,
Cofield recounted the incident where she pulled her shirt
down to cover her bottom and further stated Huddleston had
done other things, such as making obscene gestures mimicking
the performance of sexual acts on her. (Doc. ...