Knabe v. Boury Corp.

Citation114 F.3d 407
Decision Date29 May 1997
Docket NumberNo. 95-3614,95-3614
Parties73 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1877, 70 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 44,780 Karla J. KNABE, Appellant, v. The BOURY CORP. d/b/a Big Boy East d/b/a Elby's Big Boy, Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)

J. Gregory Giannuzzi (Argued), Vincent A. Ciccone, Giannuzzi & Ciccone, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellant.

Carole S. Katz (Argued), Stacy L. Duggan, Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellee.

Before: BECKER, MANSMANN, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This appeal by Karla Knabe arises from her civil action against Boury Corporation alleging that she was a victim of unlawful sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S. § 951 et seq., while she was employed as a waitress at Boury's "Elby's Big Boy" restaurant in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. Knabe contends that she was subjected to a hostile work environment created by Kevin Humbrecht, one of the restaurant managers. The district court, having concluded that Boury was not liable as a matter of law for Humbrecht's actions because it took prompt and adequate remedial action after Knabe reported the harassment to company officials, as required by Bouton v. BMW of North America, Inc., 29 F.3d 103 (3d Cir.1994), granted summary judgment to Boury. Although we view the facts in the light most favorable to Knabe, the non-moving party, because we conclude that there is no genuine issue of material fact that the actions taken by Boury in response to Knabe's complaint were other than "reasonably calculated" to prevent future acts of harassment, we affirm. 1


Knabe began working as a waitress at the Elby's Big Boy restaurant on August 6, 1993. According to her affidavit and deposition testimony, over the course of the following two months, Humbrecht engaged in several acts of sexual harassment. On at least a dozen occasions, he bumped into her from behind, rubbed himself against her, or ran his hands over her buttocks at the pie cooler or in other behind-the-counter spaces. On one occasion in September 1993, Knabe showed Humbrecht a broken light in the women's restroom. Several male employees were standing just outside, and as Humbrecht and Knabe exited Humbrecht pretended to pull up his pants and his zipper in the presence of the other employees. Knabe testified that, when she expressed her displeasure after each of these incidents, Humbrecht responded "don't take it personal."

On September 5, 1993, Knabe fell in the waitress area, causing her skirt to come up and exposing most of her legs and lower body. Sometime after her fall, Humbrecht asked her whether she had been wearing underwear when she fell. And on October 13, 1993, Humbrecht called Knabe at home at approximately 7:50 a.m. to ask her to come into work early. She told him she would be in after she had showered and had a cup of coffee. Later that day, Humbrecht asked her whether she had been having sex with her fiance when he called that morning.

After Knabe had threatened to report his conduct to his supervisor, Humbrecht removed her from the work schedule. 2 Knabe testified that, throughout her employment, whenever she had threatened to report him, Humbrecht told her that "life in the unemployment line" was very unpleasant. Knabe has acknowledged that, except for the restroom episode, there were no witnesses to any of Humbrecht's actions.

On October 20, 1993, Knabe complained by telephone to Sharon Barnes, who supervised the Monroeville restaurant as well as four other Elby's. Knabe reported the instances of harassment described above, as well as the fact that she had been taken off the work schedule when she threatened to report Humbrecht. 3 This was the first indication to Elby's management about Humbrecht's conduct. Barnes consulted Elby's procedures for investigating a sexual harassment complaint, and also contacted the director of Big Boy East and Elby's legal counsel for advice about investigation procedure.

On October 21, 1993, Barnes interviewed Humbrecht. He denied any improper comments to Knabe on October 13, 1993, and Barnes did not ask him about the other incidents. Barnes, along with Elby's director of operations, met with Knabe on October 23, 1993, and Knabe informed them that she wanted Humbrecht to be discharged or transferred to another restaurant. Barnes then interviewed three of Knabe's co-workers, all of whom had worked on Knabe's shift on October 13, 1993. Each reported to Barnes that they had not witnessed Humbrecht make any improper statements to Knabe, and that they had never observed any inappropriate behavior by a manager in the restaurant.

At the conclusion of her investigation, Barnes decided not to reprimand or otherwise sanction Humbrecht, based on her (mistaken) belief that she could not make a finding that an employee had engaged in sexual harassment without corroborating testimony. However, she met with Humbrecht and informed him that Knabe was to be returned to the work schedule immediately. More importantly, Barnes reminded him that the "company does not tolerate any sexual comments or actions" and that any "company violations of this policy will receive possible suspension and or termination." Both Barnes and Humbrecht signed a "record of conversation" acknowledging the substance of the conversation. Humbrecht also acknowledged that the "procedures were explained to me and I do understand them. I will continue to adhere to them."

The next day, October 26, Barnes met with Knabe. She informed Knabe that, because there were no witnesses to Humbrecht's conduct, she could not conclude that Humbrecht had done anything inappropriate and, hence, she could not reprimand Humbrecht. Barnes also told Knabe that she had been restored to the work schedule, and that she should call Barnes or certain other members of Elby's management if the conduct recurred. Knabe responded by informing Barnes that she could not return to work because Humbrecht had not been transferred or fired, and that she would pursue her recently filed EEOC charge. Both Barnes and Knabe signed the record of conversation reporting the substance of the conversation.

Boury's papers represent that, at all times during the period in question, the company's sexual harassment and open door policies were posted on the Communications Board at the restaurant along with the names and phone numbers of company managers to contact to lodge a complaint. Moreover, the open door policy appeared in the employee handbook. Knabe, however, testified that she never saw these policies during her employment at the restaurant.

In September 1994, Knabe filed a complaint in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging that she was a victim of unlawful harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S. § 951 et seq. After discovery, Boury moved for summary judgment. The magistrate judge to whom the case was referred filed a report concluding that, while there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Knabe was subjected to a hostile work environment, Boury could not be held liable as a matter of law for Humbrecht's actions because it took prompt and effective remedial action after learning of Humbrecht's conduct, as required under Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469 (3d Cir.1990), and Bouton v. BMW of North America, Inc., 29 F.3d 103 (3d Cir.1994), and hence recommended that Boury's motion be granted. After a de novo review of the pleadings and evidence, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and granted summary judgment to Boury. On appeal, Knabe contends that there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment in Boury's favor. The standards for summary judgment and our standard of review are well known and are set forth in the margin. 4


Knabe contends that Humbrecht subjected her to a hostile work environment during her two months of employment at the Monroeville Elby's. See Meritor Sav. Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 66, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 2405, 91 L.Ed.2d 49 (1986) ("[A] plaintiff may establish a violation of Title VII by proving that discrimination based on sex has created a hostile or abusive work environment.") We have held that, to bring a claim for sexual harassment under Title VII because of an intimidating and offensive work environment, a plaintiff must establish " 'by the totality of the circumstances, the existence of a hostile or abusive working environment which is severe enough to affect the psychological stability of a minority employee.' " Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1482 (quoting Vance v. Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 863 F.2d 1503, 1510 (11th Cir.1989)). Even if a work environment is found to be hostile, a plaintiff must also show that the conduct creating the hostile work environment should be imputed to the employer.

In Andrews, we set forth the five factors that a plaintiff must establish to bring a successful hostile work environment claim against his or her employer: (1) the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of his or her sex; (2) the discrimination was pervasive and regular; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex in that position; and (5) respondeat superior liability existed. Id.; see also Spain v. Gallegos, 26 F.3d 439, 447 (3d Cir.1994). 5

The crucial question here is the fifth factor: whether Boury can be held liable for Humbrecht's actions. 6 In Vinson, supra, the Supreme Court rejected the notion that employers are strictly liable for sexually hostile work environments created by employees. Rather, drawing from the fact that an "agent" of an...

To continue reading

Request your trial
409 cases
  • Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Grane Healthcare Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
    • 6 Marzo 2014
    ...agents in certain circumstances. Huston v. Proctor & Gamble Paper Products Corp., 568 F.3d 100, 106 (3d Cir. 2009); Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 411 (3d Cir. 1997); Craig v. Y&Y Snacks, Inc., 721 F.2d 77, 80-81 (3d Cir. 1983). It does not inevitably compel the conclusion that the ADA......
  • Bryant v. Wilkes-Barre Hosp., Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14-CV-1062
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • 10 Febrero 2015
    ...was negligent in its failure to discipline or fire, or failure to take remedial action upon notice of harassment. Knabe [v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407], 411 [3d Cir. 1997] (citing Bouton, 29 F.3d at 106)." Id. As such, defendant WBHC can be held liable for the conduct of its employees, such as Ste......
  • Phillips v. Donahoe
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
    • 7 Noviembre 2013
    ...of the existing record, the Postmaster General is entitled to summary judgment pursuant to the standard announced in Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407 (3d Cir. 1997). In Knabe, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit declared that anemployee seeking to hold an employer lia......
  • Anderson v. Deluxe Homes of Pa, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • 9 Marzo 2001
    ...liability only if it is "reasonably calculated to prevent further harassment." Bonenberger, 132 F.3d at 26 (citing Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 412 (3d Cir.1997)). Robbins claims that her hostile work environment was caused principally by the actions of two employees: Auth and Howard......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • How Sexual Harassment Law Failed Its Feminist Roots
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law No. XXII-1, October 2020
    • 1 Octubre 2020
    ...on constructive notice if the employer has adopted and enforces an effective sexual harassment policy). 145. Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407 (3d Cir. 1997). Although the harasser was a supervisor and we now know that negligence is not the proper standard of liability for supervisor haras......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT