Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., No. 04-0677.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtStreit
Citation710 N.W.2d 741
Docket NumberNo. 04-0677.
Decision Date10 March 2006
PartiesJulie M. BOYLE, Appellant, v. ALUM-LINE, INC., Appellee.
710 N.W.2d 741
Julie M. BOYLE, Appellant,
v.
ALUM-LINE, INC., Appellee.
No. 04-0677.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
March 10, 2006.

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Karl G. Knudson of Knudson Law Office, Decorah, Mark B. Anderson, Cresco, and James P. Moriarty of Moriarty Law Offices, P.C., Cresco, for appellant.

Donald H. Gloe of Miller, Pearson, Gloe, Burns, Beatty, Cowie & Shidler, P.L.C., Decorah, for appellee.

STREIT, Justice.


A welder claims she was sexually harassed by her fellow workers who could not get past her gender. Julie Boyle appeals the adverse verdicts in her sexual discrimination and retaliatory discharge claims brought under federal and state civil rights acts. Boyle contends the district court erred in three ways: (1) by denying her Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) hostile-work-environment claim for sexual harassment in the workplace without determining and applying the proper standard of proof, (2) by improperly instructing the jury on the effect her "at-will" employment had on her employer's ability to terminate her employment, and (3) by denying her ICRA claim for retaliatory discharge without making any factual findings.

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Because we find there was not substantial evidence to support the trial court's decision regarding the ICRA hostile-work-environment claim, the jury instruction was improper, and the court failed to apply a correct legal analysis to the retaliatory discharge claim, we reverse and remand with instructions for further proceedings.

I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

Alum-Line, Inc. hired Boyle in August of 2001 to work as a welder. Alum-Line is an Iowa corporation with three plants engaged in the manufacture of trailers and related items. Boyle worked briefly at one plant, but was transferred two months later to a different plant. Boyle was the only female worker in the second plant. Her foreman's name was Wayne Hansmeier. Hansmeier was supervised by the plant manager, Chris Orr. Boyle and Hansmeier worked on the production floor, while Orr worked in an office overlooking the production floor. Orr's supervisor was Gary Gooder, the president of Alum-Line.

Boyle claims she was subjected to numerous incidences of sexual harassment while working at this plant. She claims she was routinely subjected to pornographic and demeaning images of women—some of which depicted women performing sexual acts with beer cans and animals. Many times, when she laid on her back to work underneath a trailer, one coworker would yell comments about her being in a "promotable position." Also, a fellow coworker once shined a flashlight on her chest and said "I can warm those for you." Boyle claims she reported the flashlight incident to Orr, but he declined to do anything about it. Boyle again complained to Orr when Hansmeier responded to a question from Boyle with harsh profanity. Orr responded to this complaint by reprimanding both Hansmeier and Boyle. Weeks later, Boyle claims she went to Gooder to complain after a coworker put his hand down her blouse. Gooder allegedly sent her to Orr. Boyle claims Orr's only response to her complaint was "We've had some complaints and I'm investigating." Gooder and Orr claim Boyle never made any complaints about sexual harassment. The only complaint they acknowledge pertained to the incident involving harsh language.

On April 23, 2002, approximately one week after Boyle allegedly complained about her coworker putting his hand down her blouse, Gooder and Orr told Boyle her employment was terminated. Gooder and Orr said she was terminated because her coworkers had complained they were uncomfortable working with her because she was sexually harassing them.

In 2003, Boyle filed a petition seeking damages under the ICRA and under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The petition contained four distinct claims: (1) sexual discrimination through a hostile work environment under the ICRA, (2) retaliatory discharge under the ICRA, (3) sexual discrimination through a hostile work environment under Title VII, and (4) retaliatory discharge under Title VII. Pursuant to the law at the time of the case, the federal claims were tried to a jury while the state claims were simultaneously tried to the district court. See Smith v. ADM Feed Corp., 456 N.W.2d 378, 380 (Iowa 1990) (holding there is no right to a jury trial under the ICRA), overruled by McElroy v. State, 703 N.W.2d 385 (Iowa 2005).

Boyle proposed a retaliatory discharge jury instruction, but the court ultimately did not instruct the jury on this issue. Boyle did not object to the court omitting the instruction. However, Boyle did object to the court's jury instruction which stated Alum-Line had the right to discharge Boyle "for any reason." The court

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overruled this objection and gave the instruction to the jury.

In a special verdict, the jury concluded there was a hostile work environment, but also determined Alum-Line took steps reasonably calculated to stop the sexual harassment. Based on this finding, the district court entered judgment for Alum-Line on the Title VII hostile-work-environment claim. The court made identical findings of fact and entered judgment denying Boyle's ICRA hostile-work-environment claim. The court pointedly refrained from making any findings as to her ICRA retaliatory discharge claim. Not having been instructed on such a claim, the jury did not make any findings on the Title VII retaliatory discharge claim.

Boyle filed post-trial motions requesting, among other things, the court amend its decision on the Iowa Civil Rights Act claim to find Alum-Line did not take steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual harassment, and Alum-Line discharged the plaintiff in retaliation for lodging her last complaint of sexual harassment.

The district court denied all of Boyle's motions and stated its "findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record and are consistent with the jury's factual findings [on the federal claim]."

Boyle filed an appeal contending the district court erred in three ways. First, it erred in denying her ICRA hostile-work-environment claim without determining and applying the proper standard of proof.1 Second, it erred in instructing the jury on the effect her at-will employment had on Alum-Line's ability to terminate her employment. Third, it erred by not making any factual findings when it denied her ICRA claim for retaliatory discharge.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded to the district court for retrial solely on Boyle's Title VII claim of sexual discrimination through a hostile work environment. It affirmed the judgment of the district court on all other issues. We granted further review.

II. The Merits

A. Iowa Civil Rights Act Hostile-Work-Environment Claim

In Farmland Foods v. Dubuque Human Rights Commission, we set forth the elements of an ICRA hostile-work-environment claim:

To establish a hostile work environment, the plaintiff must show: (1) he or she belongs to a protected group; (2) he or she was subjected to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on a protected characteristic; and (4) the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment. Additionally, if the harassment is perpetrated by a nonsupervisory employee, the plaintiff must show the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take proper remedial action.

672 N.W.2d 733, 744 (Iowa 2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The district court entered findings of fact which established that Boyle was subjected to a hostile work environment. The court determined:

[Boyle] was subjected to sexual harassment by her co-worker's offensive sexual language and conduct at work.... The conduct by [Boyle's] co-workers was based on her gender.... The conduct by [Boyle's] co-workers was directed to [Boyle] and was unwelcome and uninvited.... The conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive so that a reasonable

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person would find [Boyle's] work environment to be hostile.... [Alum-Line] knew of the sexual harassment....

However, the court found Boyle failed to prove all of the elements of a claim for sexual harassment in the workplace because Alum-Line "did take steps reasonably calculated to stop the sexual harassment." Boyle argues there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that Alum-Line took steps reasonably calculated to stop the sexual harassment.

Our review of claims tried to the district court under the ICRA is for correction of errors at law. Falczynski v. Amoco Oil Co., 533 N.W.2d 226, 230 (Iowa 1995) ("Our review of discrimination claims tried to the court is at law."). The district court's findings of fact are entitled to the weight of a special verdict and are binding on appeal if supported by substantial evidence. Lynch v. City of Des Moines, 454 N.W.2d 827, 829 (Iowa 1990). If there is no substantial evidence to support a finding upon which the lower court arrives at a challenged conclusion of law, the finding is not binding on this court. Offermann v. Dickinson, 175 N.W.2d 423, 426 (Iowa 1970).

Before we analyze the disputed finding of fact, we first analyze the court's conclusion that "a reasonable person would find [Boyle's] work environment to be hostile." Throughout trial, Alum-Line contended Boyle only made one complaint which conceivably related to sexual harassment. This one complaint related to an argument between Boyle and Hansmeier over blueprint measurements on a trailer. Boyle complained to Orr when Hansmeier told her to "look at the f* * *ing plan." Alum-Line argues this one instance led to the judge's conclusion that Boyle was subjected to a hostile work environment.

This argument is not consistent with the court's actual findings. First of all, the heated exchange between Boyle and Hansmeier involved only one coworker while the court's finding of fact repeatedly refers to the harassers as...

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63 practice notes
  • Schoonover v. Schneider Nat. Carriers, Inc., No. 4:06-cv-00042-JEG.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa
    • June 26, 2007
    ...Act of 1965 are governed by the same framework as cases brought under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 750 (Iowa 2006); Channon v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 629 N.W.2d 835, 861-62 (Iowa 2001); Hulme, 449 N.W.2d at 32. In Stewart v. Indep......
  • Raymond v. U.S.A. Healthcare Center-Fort Dodge, No. C 05-3074-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • December 22, 2006
    ...his or her participation in the protected activity and the adverse employment action taken." See, e. g., Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 750 (Iowa 2006). Although the Iowa Supreme Court still has not expressly adopted the traditional McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis for ......
  • Koenig v. Koenig, No. 07-1586.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 5, 2009
    ...of appeal. II. Standard of Review. We review challenges to jury instructions for correction of errors at law. Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 748 (Iowa 2006). We must determine whether the jury instructions presented "are a correct statement of the applicable law based on the evid......
  • Burkhalter v. Burkhalter, No. 12–0222.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 20, 2013
    ...the applicable law in such a way that the jury has a clear understanding of the issues it must decide.’ ” Boyle v. Alum–Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 748–49 (Iowa 2006) (quoting Thompson v. City of Des Moines, 564 N.W.2d 839, 846 (Iowa 1997)). William challenges the “clearly” requirement in I......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
63 cases
  • Schoonover v. Schneider Nat. Carriers, Inc., No. 4:06-cv-00042-JEG.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa
    • June 26, 2007
    ...Act of 1965 are governed by the same framework as cases brought under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 750 (Iowa 2006); Channon v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 629 N.W.2d 835, 861-62 (Iowa 2001); Hulme, 449 N.W.2d at 32. In Stewart v. Indep......
  • Raymond v. U.S.A. Healthcare Center-Fort Dodge, No. C 05-3074-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • December 22, 2006
    ...his or her participation in the protected activity and the adverse employment action taken." See, e. g., Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 750 (Iowa 2006). Although the Iowa Supreme Court still has not expressly adopted the traditional McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis for ......
  • Koenig v. Koenig, No. 07-1586.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 5, 2009
    ...of appeal. II. Standard of Review. We review challenges to jury instructions for correction of errors at law. Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 748 (Iowa 2006). We must determine whether the jury instructions presented "are a correct statement of the applicable law based on the evid......
  • Burkhalter v. Burkhalter, No. 12–0222.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 20, 2013
    ...the applicable law in such a way that the jury has a clear understanding of the issues it must decide.’ ” Boyle v. Alum–Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 748–49 (Iowa 2006) (quoting Thompson v. City of Des Moines, 564 N.W.2d 839, 846 (Iowa 1997)). William challenges the “clearly” requirement in I......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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