Murphy v. M.C. Lint, Inc.

Decision Date27 July 2006
Docket NumberNo. 4:04CV90364.,4:04CV90364.
Citation440 F.Supp.2d 990
PartiesMary Jo MURPHY, Plaintiff, v. M.C. LINT, INC. d/b/a Polk County Heating and Cooling Melvin Lint; and Mark Young, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Jaki K. Samuelson, Gretchen Witte Kraemer, Whitfield & Eddy, Plc, Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

Russell L. Samson, Rebecca Boyd Dublinske, Dickinson Mackaman Tyler & Hagen Pc, Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

PRATT, Chief Judge.

On July 13, 2004, Plaintiff Mary Jo Murphy ("Murphy") filed a Complaint against Defendants, M.C. Lint, Inc. d/b/a Polk County Heating and Cooling (hereinafter "PCHC"), Melvin Lint ("Lint") and Mark Young ("Young"). In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts five claims: Hostile Work Environment (Harassment and Discrimination Based on Gender) in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act ("ICRA"), Iowa Code Chapter 216; Violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 2617; and Retaliation, in violation of both Title VII and the ICRA.

On May 15, 2006, Defendants filed a otion for Summary Judgment (Clerk's No. 28), alleging that no genuine issue of material fact exists on any of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff filed a resistance (Clerk's No. 30) to Defendants' motion in regard to the Title VII, ICRA, and Retaliation claims, but concedes that she cannot prove her allegations under the FMLA. See Pl.'s Resistance Br. at 19 ("Plaintiff voluntarily withdraws her claim for relief under the [FMLA]."). Defendants filed a reply (Clerk's No. 31) to Plaintiff's resistance on June 20, 2006. Neither party requested a hearing, and the Court does not believe oral argument would substantially aid in resolution of the motion. Accordingly, the matter is fully submitted.

I. FACTS

Plaintiff Murphy was hired at PCHC in 1995. PCHC is an Iowa corporation with its principal place of business in Polk City, Iowa, and is owned by Defendant Lint. PCHC is a company dedicated to providing electrical and plumbing services for various construction projects. During her tenure with PCHC, Murphy performed many tasks in the nature of "Clerical/Sales Support" and "Sales Support/Job Coordinator." Defs.' App. at 126 (Iowa Civil Rights Questionnaire). Such tasks, according to Plaintiff, included amongst other things: coordinating jobs, tracking operations during construction projects, creating project schedules, performing preparatory construction tasks, such as verifying permits and building codes, organizing training classes and licensing for workers, maintaining medical insurance benefits paperwork, and providing miscellaneous office support. Id. at 126-27.

Generally, PCHC has numerous male "field employees," i.e., plumbers and electricians, that work primarily outside the PCHC office. The office itself arranges and coordinates the field work and performs administrative tasks for the maintenance of the business, and during Murphy's tenure, was staffed by Lint, Mark Young, and several female clerical employees, including Murphy, Carla Peck, and Brenda Brauer.1 Due to the predominantly male staff, Lint "always told the girls... `You've got to be aware that you're working for plumbers and electricians, and sometimes they may say some words that are inappropriate language.'" Lint Dep. at 68.

In 1998, Murphy attended an apprenticeship training course at the request of Lint. Murphy Dep. at 7; Defs.' App at 185 (Certificate of Attendance). The class, put on by "ABC,"2 focused on equal employment opportunity and affirmative action, but also discussed sexual harassment and discrimination. Murphy Dep. at 7. Murphy discussed with Lint the training she received during the class. Id. At some later point, Lint became interested in establishing a written company policy, and directed Murphy to obtain information from ABC. Id. Murphy, on behalf of Lint, requested a packet of materials from ABC regarding how to form a personnel policy for the company. Id. The packet included information about sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, and Murphy incorporated that information into an employee policy handbook which was ultimately distributed to employees. Id. at 11-12.

The policy handbook was entitled "What We Expect From You" and provides that clothing including "words or graphics that depict any type of illegal, sexual or offensive activity or image" is prohibited. Defs.' App. at 111. Courtesy, a respect for confidential information, and quality work are all required. Id. at 110-12. While the policy handbook explicitly does not seek to identify all types of prohibited behavior, it does provide that misconduct of any sort may be disciplined by any of the following, in any order: a verbal warning; written warning or reprimand; probation; suspension from work without pay; suspension subject to discharge; and discharge. Id. at 110. The handbook specifically provides that "the violation of any of the following items may subject you to automatic suspension, subject to discharge ... harassment of another employee of a sexual nature or otherwise, including but not limited to verbal or physical conduct, or unwelcome advances with regard to or on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin or ancestry, age, religion, creed, marital status, or status as a handicapped person." Id. at 118-19.

Murphy claims that during her employment with PCHC, she was subjected to various and repeated offensive conduct of a sexual nature, such that her working environment was particularly hostile for her as a woman. Specifically, Murphy has identified the following incidents in support of her claim for hostile work environment:

1) A PCHC employee named Travis Hogue wore a t-shirt "that said something about co-ed sexual plumbing." Murphy Dep. at 39. Murphy claims that "there were numerous times that [Hogue] wore similar shirts." Id. Murphy testified fled that anytime she saw Hogue wearing something sexually inappropriate, she told Lint. Sometimes, Lint told Murphy "to tell him that he needed to put a work shirt over the T-shirt so that nobody could see the T-shirt." Id. On June 13, 2002, Lint sent a memo to Hogue (typed by Murphy) noting that Hogue had "worn a shirt to work that includes graphics that depict sexual or offensive activity" and reminding him of the company policy regarding appropriate clothing. Defs.' App at 123. Murphy cannot recall Hogue wearing another inappropriate shirt until his last day of employment, approximately three weeks later. Murphy Dep. at 40-41. On that day, July 3, 2002, Hogue wore a shirt that violated company policy. When Murphy reported it to Lint, Lint merely stated, "Yeah, I know." Id. at 39. While Murphy claims that she was happy with the outcome of the memo, she also expressed her belief that Lint should have brought up the clothing issue "to everybody for a reminder, because there were several employees that were doing it." Id. at 41. Murphy does admit, however, that on approximately three occasions after implementation of the policy handbook, Lint "brought up that type of thing" at weekly staff employee meetings. Id. at 41.

2) Murphy points to another male employee of PCHC who wore a "co-ed naked billiards" t-shirt. Id. at 43. She claims that upon reporting the violation to Lint, Lint had her tell the employee to turn the t-shirt inside out. Id. at 43.

3) Murphy claims that she talked to Lint about a male employee named Ken Anderson putting his arm around her, on an unspecified date. Id. at 44. Lint told Murphy that "he [Anderson] was benign." Id. at 45. Murphy, on her own initiative, wrote a note to Anderson stating: "I don't care how benign it may be. I am not comfortable being touched by a co-worker. It makes it very difficult for me to work with you & I want you to stop."3 Defs.' App. at 121. Anderson wrote Murphy a written apology, stating: "Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will certainly stop that immediately. I apologize & ask for your forgiveness." Id. at 122. Murphy claims she was satisfied with the resolution of the incident. Murphy Dep. at 45.

4) In approximately 1998, a PCHC employee named Gary Schad phoned Murphy at work. Id. at 52-53; Defs.' App. at 132 (Iowa Civil Rights Questionnaire). When Murphy asked what he wanted, Schad stated, "I want to fuck you." Id. Murphy claims she told Schad, "Oh, you don't want to say that to me. You don't do that at work. I can't talk-I can't talk like that." Murphy Dep. at 53. Murphy told Lint, Mark Young, and several other employees about the incident during an office meeting shortly after it occurred. Id. at 53-54. Murphy does not recall Lint responding, but does recall Mark Young saying, "`Gary Schad'; with a big question mark behind it." Id. at 54. Murphy claims that she said during the meeting that something needed to be done to stop such behavior, but that nothing was said or done in response. Id. at 55.

5) In October 2002, Murphy, Jeff Foster, and approximately thirty to thirty-five male staff members were eating donuts before a meeting. Defs.' App. at 133 (Iowa Civil Rights Questionnaire); Murphy Dep. at 56. When Foster was offered a "long john" donut,4 he said, "Why don't you give it to Mary Jo [Murphy]! I heard she'll eat about anything." Id. Murphy got up and went to Lint's office and told him what happened. Murphy Dep. at 56. Murphy believes that Lint offered to say something, but that she declined and stated she would handle it on her own "because it had gotten to the point where I was being retaliated against when I came forth with complaints; the way that it was being handled was just backfiring on me, it wasn't making any progress towards lowering the amount of abuse that was going on, it was actually just fueling the fire." Id. at 58-59. When she emerged from Lint's office, Murphy told Foster that she...

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