Case: Rhodes v. Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC, No. GLR-14-1824 (District Court of Maryland, August 17, 2016)
Issues: Title VII, Hostile Work Environment, Retaliation
Court Holding: The Court denies defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s Title VII claims.
Employment Counsel: A motion for summary judgment on Title VII hostile work environment claim will be denied if a plaintiff can provide evidence of discriminatory conduct that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or of such a humiliating nature as to interfere with an employee’s work performance. In regards to a retaliation claim, temporal proximity between employee’s protected activity and employer’s negative action gives rise to inference of prima facie case of discrimination.
This summary focuses on the Title VII claims discussed in this case. From May 2007 through August 2012, plaintiff, Rylinda Rhodes worked as a dispatch representative for Comcast. Throughout her employment at Comcast, Rhodes described experiencing extreme sexualization in her work environment and specific sexually hostile actions directed at her. Rhodes’ male coworkers used profane and vulgar language, described sexual acts and body parts, and took pictures and manipulated images of female breasts. Despite Rhodes’ repeated complaints to her supervisor, her coworkers’ behavior persisted. Around August 2011, one of her coworkers grabbed her breasts and later, the same coworker lewdly referenced “missing” them. In May 2012, Rhodes informed a Comcast supervisor she could not return to work due to her coworkers’ vulgarity. Although Comcast said it would investigate her complaints and offered her a position at a different location, it did not offer to reimburse relocation expenses and Rhodes declined the offer. She refused to return to her original employment location and was eventually terminated. She subsequently filed Title VII discrimination claims against the company and Comcast moved for summary judgment.
Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex and in retaliation for opposing such discriminatory practices. In order to substantiate a hostile work environment claim, Rhodes must show that “the offending conduct (1) was unwelcome, (2) based on her sex, (3) was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive work environment, and (4) was imputable to her employer.” A workplace is judged as objectively hostile “from the perspective of a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position” who assesses the circumstances by considering the following factors: the frequency and severity of the conduct, the extent to which it reasonably interferes with the employee’s work, and whether the conduct goes beyond a “mere offensive utterance” and is physically threatening or humiliating. Conduct can include coworker’s discussions about sexual practices even if such discussions are not directed at the plaintiff.
In this matter, Comcast argued and presented evidence that it was unaware of the harassment but, the Court pointed out that the evidence presented by Rhodes could establish a hostile work environment. Due to the contradictory evidence presented by both parties, the Court denies Comcast’s motion for summary judgment on this matter.
To establish a Title VII retaliation claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) that she engaged in a protected activity, (2) that the employer took an adverse action against her, and (3) that a causal relationship existed between her protected activity and the employer’s adverse action.” The plaintiff must present a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence.”
In this case, since “temporal proximity between the adverse employment action and the employer’s knowledge of the protected activity ‘gives rise to a sufficient inference of causation to satisfy the prima facie requirement,’” the Court concluded that there was temporal proximity between the time of Rhodes’ complaints and Comcast’s failure to relocate her into a different position. The court held that this court create an inference of causation. Since Rhodes satisfied the prima facie requirement, the burden shifted to Comcast to provide a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification” for its decision to terminate Rhodes. The Court held that based on the evidence presented, Comcast had not yet overcome this burden and denied it’s motion to dismiss the Title VII retaliation claim.
For additional information about this case or other employment law matters, please contact Merritt Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703)556-6505. Mr. Green leads General Counsel, P.C.’s Employment Law Practice and has been representing employers (and occasionally employees) for over 18 years.