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Wendt v. Charter Communications, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 23, 2014

Tara Wendt, Plaintiff,
v.
Charter Communications, LLC, Defendant.

Ashley R. Thronson, David E. Schlesinger, James H. Kaster, Nichols Kaster, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

Jacqueline E. Kalk, John. H. Lassetter, Littler Mendelson, PC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Tara Wendt alleges in this action that Defendant Charter Communications, LLC ("Charter") (a) discriminated against her on the basis of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), Minn. Stat. § 363A.08; (b) retaliated against her for engaging in protected conduct, in violation of Title VII and the MHRA; and (c) is liable for an assault and battery committed against her by one of its employees. Charter now moves for summary judgment, which, for the following reasons, will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are recited in the light most favorable to Wendt.

Wendt, a single mother of three daughters (ages 16, 11, and 9 in 2014), began working at Charter in Rochester, Minnesota, in September 2001. (Wendt Decl. ¶¶ 4-5.) She started as a customer service representative but was promoted to the workforce coordinator department in 2005, where she remained through 2013. (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 22, 154-55.) In that role she scheduled the staffing of three departments in the call center. ( Id., 152-53.)

The activities relevant to this Motion began in early January 2013. Around that time, Wendt was assigned a new manager, Steve Casey. ( Id., Ex. 27, 114; id., Ex. 22, 123-24.) Starting in mid-January and continuing into the spring, Casey made sexually-charged comments to Wendt.[1] He told her to wear tighter shirts and pants so he could see her body. ( Id., Ex. 4.) Commenting that whatever she paid for her breasts was worth it, Casey suggested she not wear a bra so he could see her nipples through her shirt. (Id.) He repeatedly asked her the type and color of her panties, mentioning that he could not see a panty line. (Id.) He said her scent was intoxicating and smelling her made him horny. (Id.) He told her that he would "have [her] in every way." (Id.) And he informed her that he would soon have an office without windows, which would eliminate the chance that someone would interrupt them when they were together. (Id.) Beyond these comments, Casey also told Wendt that she should do whatever he wanted because he was in charge and could make her pay. (Id.) Moreover, he told her several times he would write her up for insubordination if she did not do what he wanted. (Id.)

On February 7, Casey and Wendt had a "one-on-one" meeting in Casey's office. When she stood next to him (at his request) to help him pull up a report on his computer, Casey ran his hand up the inside of her leg, touching her vagina over her pants and telling her he "can and will have that." (Id.) She responded by telling him not to touch her. (Id.) He replied that she should keep her mouth shut if she did not want to lose her job and he knew that as a single mother she was the sole income-earner for her family. (Id.)

About a week later, Casey and Wendt's former manager, Jeremy Borell, completed Wendt's 2012 performance review. (Lassetter Aff., Ex. D, 27.) Borell testified that he evaluated Wendt's 2012 performance (Lassetter Aff., Ex. D, 50), while Casey testified he typed the review into the computer system and wrote goals for Wendt's 2013 performance (Lassetter Aff., Ex. E, 137-39). Nevertheless, Casey emailed Borell on February 14, 2013, saying "I'm struggling how to score her, " referring to Wendt. (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 13, 1.) On February 15 at 8:40 p.m., Casey sent an instant message to Borell saying "thinking about how to score [Wendt] in accountability... thinking she'll get a 2 in that." (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 14.)

Wendt received her review about two months later, on April 17, getting the lowest score of any workforce coordinator. (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 23, 215; id., Ex. 6, 4; id., Ex. 4.) Because Charter assigned shifts according to performance-review results[2] (Lassetter Aff., Ex. D, 97), Wendt knew her scores would make her the last person to pick a shift, and ultimately she ended up with the shift she least wanted. (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 7; id., Ex. 23, 215.) Its timing-from 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday- made it more difficult for her to see her children. ( Id., Ex. 30; id., Ex. 23, 327.) Her review also impacted the increase in her pay based on merit. ( Id., Ex. 27, 68.) She received a merit increase of $0.44/hour, compared to her colleagues who received between $0.49/hour and $0.66/hour. (Farber Decl. ¶ 4.) Angry with her review, she asked Casey why she had scored so low, and he told her it was payback for refusing to submit to his sexual demands. (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 23, 247.)

On April 23, a few days after receiving her review, Wendt reported Casey's sexual harassment to Charter. ( Id., Ex. 5.) Wendt met with Liz Manning of human resources, telling Manning Casey had sexually harassed her and giving Manning a document she had prepared detailing each instance of harassment. ( Id., Ex. 23, 256; id., Ex. 24, 19-20; id., Ex. 4.) Manning discussed the contents of the document with Wendt and then explained the investigation process to her. (Lassetter Aff., Ex. F, 103-04.) Manning began investigating that day. She interviewed Casey, who denied Wendt's allegations, and suspended him from work while the investigation was pending. ( Id., Ex. G., Ex. 105, 6-10.) She later interviewed Wendt and Casey each a second time. ( Id., 22-28.) Over the course of a few days, Manning also interviewed ten employees about Casey, including all the members of the workforce coordinator team that he managed. Further, she called Casey's former office, in Louisville, which informed her he had not been named in an ethics complaint there. ( Id., 21.) Over the course of this investigation, Manning found no information corroborating Wendt's claim of sexual harassment, and she ultimately found Casey to be more credible. ( Id., Ex. G, 104-07.)

Manning informed Wendt on April 29 that the investigation was closed and Casey would be coming back to work. ( Id., Ex. G, Ex. 105, 31.) Though Manning did not credit Wendt's claims, she nevertheless offered Wendt the opportunity to work for a new manager by transferring to a different job with the same salary and shift time. (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 23, 242; Lassetter Aff., Ex. G, 180.) Wendt refused both because she viewed them as demotions. (Schlesinger Aff., Ex. 23, 244.) She instead continued as a workforce coordinator, and Casey continued to be her supervisor. ...


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