132 F.3d 978 (4th Cir. 1997), 96-2315, Harris v. L & L Wings, Inc.

Docket Nº:96-2315, 96-2558.
Citation:132 F.3d 978
Party Name:Diane Sue HARRIS; Marina L. Prasky, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. L & L WINGS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant. Diane Sue HARRIS; Marina L. Prasky, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. L & L WINGS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:December 24, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 978

132 F.3d 978 (4th Cir. 1997)

Diane Sue HARRIS; Marina L. Prasky, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

L & L WINGS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.

Diane Sue HARRIS; Marina L. Prasky, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

L & L WINGS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.

Nos. 96-2315, 96-2558.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 24, 1997

Argued Oct. 31, 1997.

Page 979

ARGUED: Victoria LaMonte Eslinger, Nexsen, Pruet, Jacobs & Pollard, L.L.P., Columbia, SC, for Appellant. Henrietta Urbani Golding, Bellamy, Rutenberg, Copeland, Epps, Gravely & Bowers, P.A., Myrtle Beach, SC, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: J.

Page 980

Michelle Childs, Jennifer J. Aldrich, David Rothstein, Nexsen, Pruet, Jacobs & Pollard, L.L.P., Columbia, SC, for Appellant.

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, MICHAEL, Circuit Judge, and BUTZNER, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed by published opinion. Chief Judge WILKINSON wrote the opinion, in which Judge MICHAEL and Senior Judge BUTZNER joined.

OPINION

WILKINSON, Chief Judge:

Diane Harris and Marina Prasky sued their former employer, L & L Wings, Inc., for sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. A jury awarded Harris and Prasky compensatory and punitive damages. The district court declined to set aside the awards on Wings' post-trial motions. Wings disputes the sufficiency of the evidence for the jury's verdicts and challenges the trial court's award of attorneys' fees to Harris and Prasky. We affirm.

I.

Defendant Wings is a beachwear retailer that had several stores and four warehouses in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area during the time relevant to this lawsuit. Wings employed more than five hundred people year round, a number that swelled to more than one thousand workers during the busy summer season. Harris and Prasky were hourly workers in various capacities in Wings' warehouses. Given that they prevailed before the jury, we must review the evidence on appeal in the light most favorable to them. See Winant v. Bostic, 5 F.3d 767, 774 (4th Cir.1993).

Harris suffered sexual harassment for much of the time she was employed by Wings. The harassment began in early 1991, when she became assistant floor manager at Wings' Main Warehouse under the supervision of floor manager Ely Levy. This position required Harris to share a desk with Levy. On an almost daily basis, Levy grabbed Harris, embraced her, stroked her hair, massaged her back and shoulders, fondled her legs, and/or followed her around the warehouse. Once Levy pinned Harris against a box and tried to kiss her. In addition to these assaults, Harris endured persistent boasts by Levy about his sexual prowess, offers to promote her in exchange for dating him, and another offer of a hundred dollars if Harris would go to bed with him. Levy even offered to reward Harris' son with a raise if he would convince his mother to go out with him. When Harris resisted Levy's advances and complained to the warehouse manager, Shay Gat, and other members of Wings management about Levy's conduct, the harassment intensified. Levy also retaliated by interfering with Harris' job performance, hiding her paperwork and humiliating her in front of other employees.

While she worked at the Main Warehouse, Harris was placed in uncomfortable situations by other Wings employees as well. Their acts included repeated embraces, continuing attempts to engineer solitary situations, and a swat on her rear end.

Even after Harris escaped the Main Warehouse and Levy's direct supervision, harassment by him continued. In January 1992 Harris became the supervisor of Wings' Warehouses 1 and 2. She still went to the Main Warehouse almost every day to submit paperwork, however, and Levy continued to harass her on a near-daily basis. Every time Harris encountered Levy, he would either touch her or make vulgar comments or sexual advances to her or both. After early 1993, when Harris became supervisor of Warehouse 24, her personal contact with Levy was less frequent, but no less offensive; Levy groped her or made sexually crude remarks to her at virtually every opportunity. The harassment continued unabated until Harris was terminated in July 1993.

While she was employed at Wings, Prasky had to run a similar gauntlet of abuse. When she replaced Harris as Levy's assistant at the Main Warehouse in early 1992, Levy subjected her to much the same treatment as Harris: constant strokes, caresses and embraces as well as verbal harassment, including vulgar comments and sexual advances. When he saw her talking to other

Page 981

employees, he would grab her and say things like, "Don't talk to her. She's my wife," though of course she was not. On one occasion in 1992, Levy showed Prasky a T-shirt depicting frogs in twelve different sexual positions and said to her, "This is what I can do for you." Again, when Prasky resisted Levy's advances and complained to management, Levy got angry and the harassment intensified.

Prasky also suffered persistent harassment at the hands of other Wings employees. Jacky Heby, Wings' General Manager, tugged on her shorts and gestured as if to pull them down nearly every time he encountered her in the warehouse. He made suggestive and offensive remarks, once insisting that he had seen her perform as a stripper, "same size butt, same size breasts," and that he remembered shoving money into her underwear. And on one occasion Heby dismissed Ely Levy from the desk Levy shared with Prasky, sat beside Prasky himself, and grabbed and rubbed her leg. Norman Kleiman, Wings' swimwear buyer, once put his arm around Prasky and said "You can call it sexual harassment if you want, but you've got a great behind." The harassment ended only when Prasky was terminated in August 1993.

The fact that two female employees experienced a virtually identical course of harassment indicates that this was not an isolated phenomenon. Further, at Warehouse 24 Harris witnessed Nisso Mizrahi, a supervisor, "touching [two female employees], always trying to get them in a corner." Harris' son testified that when he worked at Wings he saw Ely Levy "touch a couple [female employees] on the shoulders, massage their shoulders, rub on their back." And a female former employee testified that she also experienced daily groping and sexual remarks by Ely Levy.

Nor did this harassment take place in a vacuum; the walls, tables, and bathrooms of the workplace were covered with graffiti, including slang references to sexual organs and sex acts. The walls were also covered with posters of scantily clad women, some of which had been defaced with obscene drawings of sexual organs and crude graffiti. As Harris put it, "It was filthy drawings, dirty jokes, racial slurs, the F-word everywhere. Swimwear posters with added parts drawn on." She saw Ely Levy himself sketching a private part on one poster.

The evidence presented at trial included the testimony of Harris and Prasky and other employees who witnessed and experienced harassment. Neither Shay Gat nor Ely Levy testified, although Shaul Levy and other Wings managers did appear at trial. In light of this evidence, the jury returned verdicts for both Harris and Prasky on their Title VII sexual harassment claims. The jury awarded Harris $6,933 and Prasky $5,915 in compensatory damages. 1 The jury also awarded Harris and Prasky each $150,000 in punitive damages. Wings moved for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial. The district court denied these motions and awarded Harris $68,491 and Prasky $57,838 in attorneys' fees and costs, less than each had sought. Wings appeals.

II.

A.

Wings first challenges the jury's award of compensatory damages to Harris and Prasky on their Title VII hostile environment claims. 2 The company argues that it cannot be held liable for damages caused by the harassing conduct of its employees because no representative of the company had any notice of the harassment. See, e.g., Andrade v. Mayfair Management, Inc., 88 F.3d

Page 982

258, 261 (4th Cir.1996); Amirmokri v. Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co., 60 F.3d 1126, 1130 (4th Cir.1995). Ample evidence, however, supports the conclusion that the company had notice of its employees' harassing conduct and failed to respond to it. Therefore, the jury's compensatory awards stand.

Wings was put on notice of the harassment Harris and Prasky experienced by repeated, specific complaints that each woman made to several managers. Harris complained of sexual harassment to Shay Gat, the warehouse manager, six to ten times beginning in May or June of 1991. She also complained to Hugo Schiller, Wings' internal management consultant. Harris even complained to Jacob Frank, another warehouse manager, about the harassment she saw Mizrahi perpetrate at Warehouse 24 against other female employees. And Harris testified that a month before she was terminated she threatened that if Wings did not do something about the intolerable work environment the employees "were going to do something." Prasky complained about sexual harassment to Gat and to Frank when he replaced Gat as warehouse manager in April 1993. And she complained to Schiller, once going into his office crying and begging him to get her away from Ely Levy. Prasky also complained to Schiller about the offensive graffiti on the walls and tables of the warehouse.

In this case, the complaints Harris and Prasky lodged gave Wings sufficient notice to impute...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP