United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
H. SHARP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment (Docket No. 13). For the reasons stated
herein, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.
is a former employee of the Department of Education for the
State of Tennessee. He has filed claims against Defendant,
asserting sexual harassment, discrimination, a hostile work
environment, and retaliation, in violation of the Tennessee
Human Rights Act (“THRA”). Defendant has moved
for summary judgment on the hostile work environment claim
only, arguing that Plaintiff has insufficient proof to meet
the standard of a hostile work environment claim.
worked for the Tennessee Department of Education from 2009
until he was terminated on April 30, 2014. Plaintiff alleges
that he enjoyed a good working relationship with his team and
supervisors until a restructuring in 2013. Plaintiff contends
that in the later part of 2013, Debbie Owens became
Plaintiff's direct supervisor. Plaintiff alleges that in
January of 2014, Owens propositioned Plaintiff while they
were on a training trip to Bradley County, Tennessee.
Plaintiff claims that Owens turned toward Plaintiff, lowered
her glasses and suggestively asked him if he wanted to come
up to her room, while rubbing her inner thighs with her hands
and smiling at Plaintiff. Plaintiff further asserts that when
he declined, Owens stated, “If you want to move up in
the state, you have to learn to play the game.”
alleges that, after this incident, Owens consistently berated
Plaintiff in public, physically intimidated him, and made
further unwanted sexual advances toward him, including
rubbing her breasts against him on two occasions. Plaintiff
has testified that after the training trip event, Owens made
his life very miserable. Plaintiff claims to have made
several complaints concerning Owens to supervisors and, on
March 11, 2014, filed a formal complaint against Owens with
Human Resources. Plaintiff asserts that, after his complaint
to Human Resources, Owens continued to yell at him, invaded
his personal space, bumped him with her breasts, tried to
exclude Plaintiff from a meeting, failed to reply to
Plaintiff's emails, and declined to approve necessary
travel. Plaintiff maintains that Owens continued to supervise
him during the investigation related to his complaint, and
during that time, she also evaluated his job performance.
Plaintiff alleges that, despite his having only positive
performance reviews prior to rejecting Owens' sexual
advances, Owens gave Plaintiff a negative performance
evaluation on April 2, 2014. On April 30, 2014, Defendant
terminated Plaintiff's employment.
judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Pennington v. State
Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., 553 F.3d 447, 450 (6th
Cir. 2009). The party bringing the summary judgment motion
has the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis
for its motion and identifying portions of the record that
demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material
facts. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir.
2003). The moving party may satisfy this burden by presenting
affirmative evidence that negates an element of the
non-moving party's claim or by demonstrating an absence
of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must review
all the evidence, facts and inferences in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. Van Gorder v. Grand
Trunk Western Railroad, Inc., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th
Cir. 2007). The Court does not, however, weigh the evidence,
judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of
the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court determines whether sufficient
evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a
proper jury question. Id. The mere existence of a
scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's
position will be insufficient to survive summary judgment;
rather, there must be evidence on which a jury could
reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Rodgers,
344 F.3d at 595.
Tennessee, a hostile work environment exists when conduct has
the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an
individual's work performance or creating an
intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
Bazemore v. Performance Food Group, Inc., 478 S.W.3d
628, 635 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015). In Campbell v. Florida
Steel Corp., the Tennessee Supreme Court set forth what
an employee must assert and prove in order to prevail on a
hostile work environment claim in a sexual harassment case:
(1) the employee is a member of a protected class; (2) the
employee was subjected to unwelcomed sexual harassment; (3)
the harassment occurred because of the employee's gender;
(4) the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege
of employment; and (5) the employer knew, or should have
known of the harassment and failed to respond with prompt and
appropriate corrective action. Campbell, 919 S.W.2d
26, 31 (Tenn. 1996).
Motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not identified
any incidents that are sufficiently severe or pervasive to
state a claim for hostile work environment. In determining
whether an environment is hostile, however, the court must
consider the totality of the circumstances.
Campbell, 919 S.W.2d at 32. Factors to be considered
include the frequency of the conduct, its severity, whether
it is physically threatening or humiliating or a mere
offensive utterance, whether it unreasonably interferes with
the employee's work performance, and the employee's
psychological well-being. Id.
there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude
summary judgment on this claim. For example, Plaintiff
alleges that Owens propositioned him in a quid pro
quo sort of way and told him he would “have to
learn to play the game” if he wanted to move up in the
state. Owens denies these allegations. Even accepting the
allegations of Plaintiff as true, a factfinder must determine
what was “unreasonable” under the totality of the
circumstances and whether the alleged conduct would have
affected the terms, conditions and privileges of employment
for a “reasonable” employee.
has offered sufficient proof, as outlined in the facts above,
that a factfinder could determine that Ms. Owens'
conduct, under the totality of the circumstances, was
sufficiently severe or pervasive to state a claim for hostile
work environment. For example, a reasonable factfinder could
decide that the proposition by Ms. Owens, particularly with
its alleged connection to “moving up” in
Plaintiff's employment, was severely humiliating and
intimidating. A reasonable factfinder could find that
Owens' rubbing her breasts on Plaintiff's body,
consistently berating him and invading his personal space
were sufficient to affect Plaintiff's work performance.
Indeed, according to Defendant's evaluation,
Plaintiff's work performance did suffer after
the alleged harassment by Ms. Owens. The Deputy Commissioner,
Ms. Airhart, confirmed that ...