Curry v. Koch Foods, Inc.

Decision Date20 March 2019
Docket NumberCase No.: 2:16-cv-02008-SGC
PartiesBRANDI CURRY, Plaintiff, v. KOCH FOODS, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama

This is 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.

A. Background

Curry 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 herposition 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, 21).

During 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, 24-25).

Curry 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).3 These comments did not make her uncomfortable. (Id. at 26-27).4 Curry feltlike 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).

B. Huddleston's Comments and Conduct Between September 2014 and November 2015

Curry 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." (Id.).
• After Curry asked him why he continued to talk to her "like that," he told her that she, like Brenda, would "fold." (Id.).

Curry 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).

Curry 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).

C. Curry's November 2015 Complaint

Koch 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).

Nonetheless, 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 USDAsent 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, 35-36).

D. The "Book Incident"

After 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.). Curryasked Huddleston if her mother could read the book, and Huddleston said that was not a problem and to "take your time." (Id.).

Curry 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 book.

(Id.). Huddleston then began asking...

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