968 F.2d 427 (5th Cir. 1992), 91-4485, Landgraf v. USI Film Products

Docket Nº:91-4485.
Citation:968 F.2d 427
Party Name:Barbara LANDGRAF, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. USI FILM PRODUCTS, Bonar Packaging, Inc., and Quantum Chemical Corporation, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 30, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 427

968 F.2d 427 (5th Cir. 1992)

Barbara LANDGRAF, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

USI FILM PRODUCTS, Bonar Packaging, Inc., and Quantum

Chemical Corporation, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 91-4485.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 30, 1992

Page 428

Timothy B. Garrigan, Stuckey & Garrigan, Nacogdoches, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

Gregory D. Smith, Mike A. Hatchell, Ramey, Flock, Jeffus, Crawford, Harper & Collins, Tyler, Tex., for Bonar, USI, Quantum.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before GOLDBERG, HIGGINBOTHAM, and DAVIS, Circuit Judges.

PATRICK E. HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judge:

Barbara Landgraf brought suit against her employer asserting sexual harassment and retaliation claims under Title VII. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the defendants. Although the district court found that sexual harassment had occurred, it concluded that Landgraf had not been constructively discharged and therefore was not entitled to any relief under Title VII. Landgraf asserts on appeal that the district court clearly erred in finding that she was not constructively discharged and that the district court erred in failing to make factual findings on her retaliation claim. She also argues that she is entitled to nominal damages even if she is unable to demonstrate a constructive discharge. Finally, she asserts that the damage and jury trial provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 should be applied retroactively to her case. We affirm the district court's judgment in all respects and find that the Civil Rights Act of 1991 does not apply to this case.

Page 429

I.

Landgraf worked for USI Film Products in its Tyler, Texas production plant on the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift. From September 1984 to January 1986, she was employed as a materials handler operating a machine which produced several thousand plastic bags per shift. While she worked at the plant, fellow employee John Williams subjected her to what the district court described as "continuous and repeated inappropriate verbal comments and physical contact." The district court found that this sexual harassment was severe enough to make USI a "hostile work environment" for purposes of Title VII liability. The harassment was made more difficult for Landgraf because Williams was a union steward and was responsible for repairing and maintaining the machine Landgraf used in her work.

Landgraf told her supervisor, Bobby Martin, about Williams' harassment on several occasions but Martin took no action to prevent the harassment from continuing. Only when Landgraf reported the harassment to USI's personnel manager, Sam Forsgard, was Williams' behavior investigated. By interviewing the other female employees at the plant, the investigation found that four women corroborated Landgraf's reports of Williams engaging in inappropriate touching and three women reported verbal harassment.

Williams denied the charges, contending that "they are all lying." Williams was given a written reprimand for his behavior, but was not suspended, although the written policies of USI list sexual harassment as an action "requiring suspension or dismissal." He was technically transferred to another department, however, USI officials conceded that he would still be in Landgraf's work area on a regular basis. This transfer was not a form of discipline against Williams; as soon as Landgraf resigned he was transferred back to the original department.

The investigation dealt not only with Williams' behavior but also involved questioning employees about their relationship with Landgraf. On January 13, 1986, Forsgard, Wilson, and Martin met with Landgraf. According to Wilson's notes describing the meeting, Forsgard first told Landgraf that her claim had been investigated and that USI had taken the action it deemed appropriate. The meeting then turned to focus on Landgraf's problems in getting along with her co-workers. She was told that she was very unpopular and was "among [her] own worst enemies." When Landgraf asked whether anything was going to happen to Williams she was told that USI had taken what it considered appropriate action and to notify them if Williams attempted to take revenge.

After working just two more shifts, Landgraf left her job at USI. She left a letter addressed to her colleagues stating that "the stress that each one of you help [sic] to put on me, caused me to leave my job." The letter did not refer to the sexual harassment or to Williams by name. Approximately two days later, Landgraf spoke to her supervisor about her decision to resign and specifically attributed it to the harassment by Williams.

II.

It is uncontested that Barbara Landgraf suffered significant sexual harassment at the hands of John Williams during her employment with USI. This harassment was sufficiently severe to support a hostile work environment claim under Title VII. Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477...

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