Soto v. John Morrell & Co.

Decision Date06 October 2003
Docket NumberNo. C02-4029-MWB.,C02-4029-MWB.
Citation285 F.Supp.2d 1146
PartiesTeresa SOTO, Plaintiff, v. JOHN MORRELL & CO., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

Jay Elliott Denne, Munger, Stanley E. Munger, Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, Sioux City, IA, for Plaintiff.

Barry Bach, Leslie R. Stellman, Hodes, Ulman, Pessin & Katz, PA, Towson, MD, Scott C. Folkers, Scott Folkers Law Firm, Sioux Falls, SD, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BENNETT, Chief Judge.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
                 I. INTRODUCTION .........................................................1153
                   A. Procedural Background ..............................................1153
                   B. Factual Background .................................................1153
                      1. Soto's first period of employment with John Morrell .............1153
                      2. Soto's second period of employment with John Morrell ............1154
                II. STANDARDS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT .......................................1158
                III. LEGAL ANALYSIS ......................................................1158
                     A. Sexually Hostile Work Environment ................................1158
                        1. Did Soto suffer a tangible employment action? .................1160
                        2. Ellerth/Faragher Affirmative Defense ..........................1162
                           a. Did John Morrell exercise reasonable care to prevent and
                promptly correct the sexual harassment? .................1162
                                 i. Training for company supervisors regarding sexual
                harassment .........................................1164
                                 ii. Express anti-retaliation policy ....................1165
                                 iii. Multiple complaint channels ........................1165
                     B. Racially Hostile Work Environment ................................1166
                
                C. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment ........................................1169
                   1. Failure to exhaust administrative remedies .........................1170
                   2. Failure to generate issues of material fact as to the elements of
                the claim ........................................................1173
                      a. Unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors ..........1173
                      b. Express or implied conditioning of benefits or refusal
                resulting in detriment .........................................1175
                D. Retaliation ...........................................................1175
                E. Iowa Civil Rights Act Claims ..........................................1177
                IV. CONCLUSION ...........................................................1179
                
I. INTRODUCTION
A. Procedural Background

On March 16, 2002, Teresa Soto ("Soto") filed a complaint in this court against her former employer, defendant John Morrell & Co. ("John Morrell"), alleging four causes of action: (1) a claim of sexual harassment in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; (2) a claim of racial harassment and discrimination under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) a claim of retaliation; and (4) pendent state law claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act ("ICRA"), IOWA CODE CH. 216. Soto filed an amended complaint on June 25, 2003, which added the additional claim of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Presently, John Morrell seeks summary judgment in its favor on each of Soto's claims.

Subject matter jurisdiction over Soto's federal claim is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, which provides for original jurisdiction of claims under Title VII in the United States district courts. The court has jurisdiction over the state law claim alleging violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act ("ICRA") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), which confers "supplemental jurisdiction over all claims that are so related to the claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

The court heard the parties' oral arguments on John Morrell's motion for summary judgment on September 30, 2003. At the oral arguments, plaintiff Teresa Soto was represented by Jay E. Denne of Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, L.L.P., in Sioux City, Iowa. Defendant John Morrell was represented by Leslie R. Stellman of Hodes, Ulman Pessin & Katz, P.A., in Towsen, Maryland and by Scott C. Folkers, in-house counsel for John Morrell in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A jury trial on this matter is currently scheduled for November 17, 2003.

B. Factual Background
1. Soto's first period of employment with John Morrell

Soto, a Hispanic female, was employed by John Morrell on two separate occasions. The first employment period ran from December 30, 1997 through March 26, 1998. During this period of employment Soto was originally assigned to the cold floor,1 a refrigerated area, where she used a hook to scrape fat off of pork loins. After working in the cold area for a short time, the environment started to aggravate Soto's asthma and she was moved to the `kill floor'2 and assigned to work the tripe3 area. On the kill floor Soto's direct supervisor was foreman Jesus "Chuy" Perez. At that time, Mr. Leonard Tanner ("Tanner") was the superintendent of the entire kill floor. After Soto missed three consecutive days of work in late January 1998 without calling in, she was placed on special probation. In late March 1998 Soto again did not show up for three consecutive days of work, and did not notify John Morrell of the reason for her absence. Soto eventually contacted Mr. Steve Joyce, John Morrell's Human Resource Manager, and informed him that she could no longer come to work as she needed to stay home with her daughter and newly born grandson. When Soto did not return to work for a couple of weeks, her employment at John Morrell was terminated. Soto's first period of employment with John Morrell officially ended on March 26, 1998.4 While Soto alleges that her supervisors engaged in sexually harassing conduct towards others during this time,5 she does not allege any such conduct was directed at her specifically.

2. Soto's second period of employment with John Morrell

In December 2000, Soto was again in need of employment. After seeing signs at the local Job Service office that advertised open positions at John Morrell, Soto decided she would again like to work for John Morrell. As Soto was interested in returning to the `kill floor,' she first called Tanner, and told him she would like to return. Tanner told her she would need to fill out an application and re-apply for the position. Soto applied, and was hired back to the kill floor on December 11, 2000. On this date, Soto received an employee handbook, and signed a receipt to that effect. During her initial employee orientation, Soto received John Morrell's sexual harassment and discrimination policy, as well as complaint procedures. This time around, Soto worked a number of positions: (1) `scissors' position;6 (2) stick hole;7 and (3) kidneys. All of these positions require the worker to manipulate sharp or dangerous objects such as knives, hooks, scissors or any combination of the three. Following an accident in March 2001, Soto was assigned to work in a separate area of the kill floor where the meat cuts were packed in boxes with ice, and then taped shut for shipping.8 Exactly how long Soto remained in the packing area is unclear, but by May 2001 she had resumed regular positions on the kill floor. Soto suffered from two medical ailments that affected her ability to work: asthma and high blood pressure. On account of these medical conditions, Soto either stayed home from work pursuant to doctor's orders, or was sent home from work by the nurse at John Morrell, on numerous occasions. During her second period of employment with John Morrell, employment records show that Soto missed a total of twenty-six days of work.9

During her second tenure at John Morrell, Soto claims that the sexually harassing and racially discriminatory conduct was profuse, and on many occasions she was the target. Soto asserts that superintendent Tanner was the alleged primary perpetrator. A sampling of Soto's allegations includes:

• While working on kidneys, which required the worker to be 2-3 feet up off the ground and work with knives, Tanner would come up behind Soto to stare at her. On a couple of occasions Tanner grabbed her calves from behind.

• On a number of occasions Mr Tanner would `throw' the plaintiff kisses, and repeatedly offer her his phone number.

• While she was working `scissors,' Tanner took her hand to lead her down from the line, and held her hand while they crossed the work floor to an office.

• On one occasion Soto saw supervisor Mike Hartman grab a female employee by the hips, lay her on one of the tables, and simulate intercourse. The response on the kill floor was one of laughter and encouragement.

• The day after Soto had been sent home for her high blood pressure, Tanner was angry with her. A female co-employee, speaking from personal experience, recommended giving Tanner a hug and a kiss would solve Soto's problems. Soto refused to hug or kiss Tanner.

• Sometime after March 2001, while Soto was working at the strapper, Tanner, foreman Mike Hartman, and coworker Jose Vasquez, approached her and Mr. Tanner told her to "say yes." Mr. Hartman gestured to her to say "no." At the time Soto said "yes." Later Soto approached Mr. Hartman and asked what she had said `yes' to. Mr. Hartman informed her that she had agreed that she gave Tanner blow jobs every night. Defendant's App., Doc. No. 31 at 000026-000028.

• In March 2001, after Soto was sent home for her high blood pressure, Tanner yelled at her: "You better give me a damn report on your health, and if you don't, don't come back." Defendant's App., Doc. No....

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