A U.S. District Court has sided with Glass America Midwest on the majority of issues in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Glass America Midwest won three of the four points in its motion for summary judgment last week in a case hinging on accusations of a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation.
In the ruling dated Thursday, Aug. 24, Judge Janet Bond Arterton of the U.S. District Court of Connecticut granted Glass America Midwest’s motion for summary judgment (dismissal) in part and denied it in part.
Plaintiff Colby Prior filed suit in June 2021 alleging sexual harassment from a co-worker and retaliation from the company–by way of termination–after she took the matter to human resources (HR). Glass America Midwest argued that because the co-worker was not someone in a supervisory position, and because the company acted immediately to address the issue when it was reported to HR, Prior could not claim a hostile work environment.
It was an argument with which the court agreed, citing in a footnote that “the court finds that Glass America cannot be liable because [the co-worker] was a non-supervisor and plaintiff admits that defendant took appropriate remedial action.” Establishing that to be the case, “the court does not reach the issue of whether [the co-worker]’s conduct was severe or pervasive.”
Judge Arterton also ruled in favor of the auto glass company on the issue of quid pro quo sexual harassment, noting that “it is undisputed that [the co-worker] was not Prior’s supervisor under the relevant definition … and thus the requisite causal relationship cannot be shown and summary judgment is granted.”
Prior also accuses the company of “gender discrimination in violation of CFEPA, alleging she was terminated because of her gender.” The defendants argued that not only is there “no evidence showing ‘circumstances that would be sufficient to permit a rational finder of fact to infer a discriminatory motive’ for her termination,” but that they also hired another woman to replace her. Ultimately, the judged was unmoved by Prior’s claims and ruled in Glass America Midwest’s favor, writing, “Because the record fails to support that gender discrimination played a role in the decision to terminate plaintiff, summary judgment is granted.”
The ruling wasn’t a sweep for Glass America Midwest, however. Judge Arterton denied the company’s motion for summary judgment with regard to the accusation of retaliation. Prior argues she was “terminated in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment,” pointing to the fact that she received no negative performance reviews or complaints about her performance in the span of time between her complaint to HR and her dismissal one month later.
“Defendant does not offer an explanation for its deviation from the progressive disciplinary process described in the employee handbook, including why plaintiff’s conduct constituted circumstances warranting such immediate action,” Judge Arterton wrote in the ruling. She wrote that Prior “testified that [the co-worker] had been significantly involved in reporting on her performance to [their supervisor] and, when she refused his advances, he alluded to his potentially providing negative performance reviews about plaintiff as a consequence.”
The court also noted Prior reported having “received no warnings from her supervisor about alleged poor performance, was telephonically fired without any semblance of the ‘normal’ progressive disciplinary process, and ‘performance’ was never articulated as the non-retaliatory reason for her firing until it was asserted as a defense in this litigation.”
The judge said “a fact finder may still infer pretext from defendant’s decision to fire her one month after her sex harassment complaint and forgo its progressive disciplinary policy, particularly where Prior was not claimed to have committed any type of serious misconduct warranting immediate termination” before ruling that “summary judgment on [this count] is not warranted.”
With the count of retaliation still on the table, the case is “ready for trial” and both parties have 30 days to file trial briefs.