GOAD v. NORTH CAROLINA FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER signed by JUDGE CATHERINE C. EAGLES on 12/04/2017, that the defendant's motion for summary judgment, Doc. 15 , is DENIED. (Garland, Leah)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
MITZI J. GOAD,
NORTH CAROLINA FARM
BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Catherine C. Eagles, District Judge.
In the complaint, the plaintiff, Mitzi Goad, asserts claims under Title VII for
constructive discharge, contending that the defendant created a hostile work environment
based on her gender, Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 26-38, and in retaliation for her complaints about
sexual harassment. ¶¶ 39-47. She has offered evidence that she was sexually harassed by
a co-worker, and that after she complained to her supervisor, the supervisor joined in the
harassment and allowed the co-worker to constantly bully and harass Ms. Goad. After
several months of this harassment and retaliation, Ms. Goad quit her job. Because she
has offered evidence to raise disputed questions of material fact, the defendantemployer’s motion for summary judgment will be denied.
Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against “any
individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment” because of the individual’s race, gender or national origin. 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-2(a)(1). “Since an employee’s work environment is a term or condition of
employment, Title VII creates a hostile working environment cause of action.” EEOC v.
Cent. Wholesalers, Inc., 573 F.3d 167, 174 (4th Cir. 2009) (quotation marks omitted). In
order to prevail on a Title VII hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must show the
underlying conduct was (1) unwelcome, (2) based on the plaintiff’s protected class, (3)
sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an
abusive atmosphere, and (4) imputable to the employer. Id. at 174-75; accord BoyerLiberto v. Fontainebleau Corp., 786 F.3d 264, 277 (4th Cir. 2015) (en banc); Ocheltree v.
Scollon Prods., Inc., 335 F.3d 325, 331 (4th Cir. 2003) (en banc). Ms. Goad contends
that she was constructively discharged as a result of the hostile work environment.
Here, the defendant does not dispute that the sexual advances by a co-worker and
sexual “jokes” by her supervisor were unwanted. Nor does the defendant dispute that the
co-worker’s retaliatory bullying and false accusations were unwelcome.1 Similarly, Farm
Bureau does not contest that the unwelcome conduct was based on Ms. Goad’s protected
Indeed, Farm Bureau ignores the evidence that after Ms. Goad complained about the coworker’s unwanted sexual advances, the co-worker began harassing Ms. Goad in other ways.
Farm Bureau does not dispute, or even address, that the co-worker’s continuing harassment
raises the inference that the retaliation was based on Ms. Goad’s failure to comply with the
harasser’s sexual demands, on Ms. Goad’s complaints to the supervisor about the harasser’s
sexual demands, or both. Either way, there is circumstantial evidence that the unwelcome
actions were based on Ms. Goad’s protected status as a woman and as a person who had
complained about discrimination. See, e.g., Foster v. Univ. of Md.-E. Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 249
(4th Cir. 2015) (noting that “Title VII prohibits an employer from both (i) discriminating against
an employee on the basis of sex, and (ii) retaliating against an employee for complaining about
prior discrimination or retaliation”); see also Freeman v. Dal-Tile, 750 F.3d 413, 419-21 (4th
Farm Bureau does contend that Ms. Goad has presented no evidence of the third
and fourth elements necessary to establish the hostile work environment claim.
As to the third element, Ms. Goad has presented evidence from which a jury could
conclude that the atmosphere was abusive. She has testified that a co-worker repeatedly
made unwanted sexual suggestions to her and that when she began complaining about the
unwanted sexual invitations from her co-worker, her supervisor first downplayed the
harassment and made a joke about it, Doc 16-1 at 6, and on another occasion he
completely ignored the complaint. Doc. 16-1 at 7. He also suggested to Ms. Goad that
she should give in to the harassment and have sex with the co-worker, Doc. 16-1 at 8,
and that she should “make it work” with the co-worker because of the co-worker’s sales.
Doc. 19 at 64. The supervisor did speak with the co-worker about Ms. Goad’s
complaints and the co-worker eventually stopped making sexual comments, but thereafter
the co-worker began making false accusations against Ms. Goad, complaining about her,
staring at her, and on one occasion becoming physically threatening so that another
employee had to step in. Ms. Goad continued to complain to her supervisor on an almost
daily basis, and the supervisor always promised that the situation was being “worked on.”
The supervisor also told Ms. Goad that she should not raise her concerns with higher-ups,
as that would make it worse for her. The situation with the co-worker became so bad that
Ms. Goad kept a loaded gun on her desk and her other co-workers would not leave her
Cir. 2014) (holding that lewd comments about sex and women’s bodies along with genderspecific epithets was harassment based on gender).
alone in the office with the harassing co-worker. In addition, her supervisor began
making repeated sexual and overly personal comments to her, many in front of other coworkers.
Eventually, the stress of dealing with the work environment and fear for her safety
forced Ms. Goad to leave her employment. She has since been diagnosed with
depression and a trauma-related stress disorder.
The evidence must be viewed in its totality, and whether harassment is sufficiently
severe or pervasive is “quintessentially a question of fact.” Walker v. Mod-U-Kraf
Homes, LLC, 775 F.3d 202, 207-09 (4th Cir. 2014). The plaintiff’s evidence here is
sufficient to raise a disputed question of material fact as to whether the environment was
“both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find
hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so.” Faragher v. City
of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 787 (1998) (citing Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17,
As to the fourth element, an employer is liable for a hostile work environment if it
“knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take effective action to
stop it.” Ocheltree, 335 F.3d at 333–34. Here, Ms. Goad has presented evidence that she
repeatedly complained to her supervisor about the erratic and retaliatory conduct of her
co-worker, who repeatedly made false accusations and otherwise bullied Ms. Goad as a
result of Ms. Goad’s complaints of sexual harassment and of Ms. Goad’s refusal to have
sexual contact with the harasser. Beyond assuring her that he was “working on it,” the
supervisor did not stop the continuing harassment from the co-worker. Instead, he began
harassing Ms. Goad himself.
From this evidence, a jury could conclude that the employer had notice and failed
to respond with remedial action reasonably calculated to end the harassment. The case is
similar to Freeman v. Dal-Tile, where the plaintiff presented evidence that her supervisor
was aware of the major incidents of harassment, that the plaintiff had specifically
complained to the supervisor about some of the derogatory comments, and that the
supervisor had “simply rolled her eyes” and had taken no effective action to halt the
harassment.” 750 F.3d at 423-24. The court noted that such evidence “if proven true,”
shows that the employer through its agent, plaintiff’s supervisor, had actual knowledge of
the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action, so that summary judgment for
the employer was properly denied. Id.; see also EEOC v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc., 521 F.3d
306, 319 (4th Cir. 2008); see also Vance v. Ball State Univ., 133 S. Ct. 2434, 2439 (2013)
(holding that if the harassing employee is the victim's co-worker, the employer is liable
“if it was negligent in controlling working conditions.”); Ocheltree, 335 F.3d at 333–34
(4th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (“[T]he employer may be liable in negligence if it knew or
should have known about the harassment and failed to take effective action to stop it.”).
Farm Bureau contends that it cannot be charged with constructive knowledge
because it provided reasonable procedures for victims to register sexual harassment
complaints and Ms. Goad did not comply with those procedures. Certainly “[a]n
employer's adoption of an effective anti-harassment policy is an important factor in
determining whether it exercised reasonable care to prevent any sexually harassing
behavior.” Smith v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 244 (4th Cir. 2000). When a
supervisor creates the hostile environment, the employer has an affirmative defense if it
shows “that [it] exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually
harassing behavior,” and “that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take
advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to
avoid harm otherwise.” Faragher 524 U.S. at 807. While “[n]o affirmative defense is
available . . . when the supervisor's harassment culminates in a tangible employment
action, such as discharge,” id. at 808, the defense is available in constructive discharge
cases such as this one. Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129, 148-149
Here, the parties agree that Farm Bureau had a policy against workplace
harassment which prohibited sexual harassment. See Doc. 16-1 at 3. The policy urged
employees to report any such incidents to the employee’s supervisor, human resources, or
the general counsel. Id.
To the extent Farm Bureau raises this defense as to the conduct of the co-worker,
it does not apply. The Faragher defense applies when a supervisor creates the hostile
work environment; the negligence test set forth in Freeman, Vance, and other cases cited
supra applies when it is a co-worker who creates the hostile environment. In any event,
there is evidence that Ms. Goad repeatedly reported the retaliatory harassment by the coworker to her supervisor, who did little to nothing to stop the harassment. Thus, to the
extent her hostile work environment claim is based on the conduct of her co-employee,
Ms. Goad complied with the policy and the defense is not applicable.
To the extent the conduct of her supervisor contributed to the hostile work
environment, Ms. Goad testified that she did not report the harassment by her supervisor
to human resources or the general counsel because “she had witnessed firsthand” that
another woman in the office had been blackballed after complaining. Doc. 16-1 at 3.
Her supervisor confirmed this view, telling her it would be worse for her if she
complained outside the office. This raises a question of fact as to whether Ms. Goad’s
failure to report the harassment by Mr. Robertson to human resources or the general
counsel was reasonable. Moreover, her supervisor’s initial reactions to the sexual
harassment by the co-worker – making jokes, ignoring or downplaying the problem, and
suggesting Ms. Goad “go along” with the harasser – and his continuing failure to address
the co-worker’s retaliatory conduct raise a question of fact as to whether Farm Bureau’s
policy was effective.
For similar reasons, Ms. Goad has raised material questions of disputed fact as to
her retaliation claim. The elements of a prima facie claim for retaliation are: (1)
engagement in a protected activity; (2) materially adverse action; and (3) a causal link
between the protected activity and the employment action. Coleman v. Md. Court of
Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010).
Here, Ms. Goad has presented evidence that she engaged in protected activity
when she complained about sexual harassment by a co-worker to her supervisor, and that
thereafter her supervisor did little to nothing to stop a continuing pattern of retaliatory
conduct by the co-worker against Ms. Goad and in fact began harassing Ms. Goad
himself, to such an extent that a hostile work environment was created. The retaliatory
conduct by the co-worker and the supervisor began soon after Ms. Goad began
complaining, and continued over several months, and was accompanied by the
supervisor’s statements that reporting the harassment outside the office would “make
things worse” for her. A reasonable employee would be dissuaded from complaining
about sexual harassment if such retaliation was not prohibited. See Burlington N. &
Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 67-69 (2006) (holding in a retaliation case that
“a plaintiff must show that a reasonable employee would have found the challenged
action materially adverse,” and that any conduct which might dissuade a reasonable
worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination can constitute retaliation.).
Finally, Farm Bureau contends that there is no evidence of harassment within the
five day period before Ms. Goad quit on July 16, 2015, and as her EEOC charge was filed
on January 7, 2016, any incidents before that date are time-barred. Ms. Goad brings a
constructive discharge claim, and Farm Bureau’s argument is inconsistent with the
Supreme Court’s decision in Green v. Brennan, 136 S. Ct. 1769, 1777 (2016). In that
case, the Supreme Court held that time limitations on a constructive discharge claim did
not begin to run until the employee ended her employment. Moreover, Ms. Goad
testified that the co-worker’s retaliatory harassment continued on a daily basis.
For the reasons stated, it is ORDERED that the defendant’s motion for summary
judgment, Doc. 15, is DENIED.
This the 4th day of December, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?