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Stedman v. City of Terre Haute

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

June 11, 2019




         This case arises out of an employment relationship between Plaintiff Stephen Stedman and the City of Terre Haute, Indiana (the “City”). Stedman is a former employee of the City's Terre Haute Street Department (the “Street Department”). He alleges that he was subjected to sexual harassment in retaliation for supporting a witness in a claim by another employee who was being harassed by coworkers and for opposing the sexual and other harassment of that coworker, Terry Fish, who is disabled. Stedman also claims that he was forced to resign because of the harassment.

         Stedman asserts claims for retaliatory discrimination, sexual harassment, and negligent supervision. The City moves for summary judgment on all of Stedman's claims. (ECF No. 25.) For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         Steven Stedman (hereinafter “Stedman”) began his employment with the City in around October 2005 as a laborer in the City's Street Department. (ECF No. 25-1 at 2.) Stedman worked in a number of areas and ended up operating a sweeper, where he remained until he left the City's employment in 2016. (ECF No. 25-1 at 3-5.) As a sweeper, his foreman was Ray Hollingsworth. (ECF No. 25-1 at 4.)

         Terry Fish, Sr., was employed in a maintenance position in the Street Department's garage. (ECF No. 25-2 at 2-3.) Fish had diminished mental capacity. (ECF No. 25-2 at 3.) In 2013 or 2014, Monty Stillman, another Street Department employee, confronted a group of employees, including Russell Pruden, for harassing Fish. (ECF No. 25-5 at 2.) Pruden had said of Fish: “That retarded bastard should get out of here because my son needs a job.” (No. ECF 25-5 at 2.) Stillman reported this comment to the City's Transportation Director and Street Department Commissioner, Brad Miller; Miller assured Stillman that Fish's job was secure. (ECF No. 25-2 at 2; ECF No. 25-5 at 2.) Stillman also took his concerns about the harassment of Fish to the City's Human Resources Department, the City Attorney, and the Mayor. (ECF No. 25-5 at 3-4.) Stedman also reported harassment of Fish to Miller; Stedman was unsure of the timing of his report. (ECF No. 25-1 at 13.)

         In November 2015, a tort claim notice was served on the City on behalf of Fish, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) conducted an investigation into the alleged disability discrimination against Fish. (ECF No. 25-2 at 4; ECF No. 25-5 at 5-6.) Stillman was listed as the only witness. (ECF No. 25- 5 at 6.) The local media was contacted regarding this tort claim notice, and a local television station ran a story on its news program and published the tort claim notice on its website. (ECF No. 25-5 at 6.)

         At his deposition, Stedman was asked to describe the harassment on which his claims are based. He testified that before the Fish tort claim notice and EEOC investigation, he was harassed by his foreman, Hollingsworth, who showed favoritism to other sweeper operators in job assignments and in ensuring that repairs to sweepers were done. However, Stedman also attributed the lack of repairs to his sweeper to budget constraints and said that when he got promoted to a better sweeper, Hollingsworth “was a little fairer” to him. (ECF No. 25-1 at 4-5.) Sted-man testified that within the first five years of his employment with the City, a coworker, Jeff Crabill, engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct directed toward Stedman. Stedman said of Crabill: “He's kind of a smart-mouth person that's - if anything [was] going on in the area, then if you said a certain way to do a job, then he'd just call you ‘stupid son of a bitch,' and, you know, ‘You don't do it that way.' And I just - early I just stayed away from him.” (ECF No. 25-1 at 7.) Crabill treated others in the same manner. (ECF No. 25-1 at 7.) In addition, twice during the first five years of Stedman's employment with the Street Department, when Crabill and Stedman were playing cards, Crabill grabbed Stedman's knee and was massaging it. (ECF No. 25-1 at 7.) Stedman told Crabill not to touch him “like that.” (ECF No. 25-1 at 7.) Stedman did not report Crabill's alleged harassment or abuse to anyone. (ECF No. 25-1 at 7.)

         Stedman also testified that Russell Pruden made comments about “kicking crackers'' ass, ” but Pruden did not single out Stedman for such comments. Pruden twice made inappropriate sexual comments about Stedman's relationship with Stillman. (ECF No. 25-1 at 8-9.) Stedman said that Pruden was trying to show off for some of his friends and “just didn't like” Stedman. (ECF No. 25-1 at 8.) When Stedman reported these incidents to Miller, Miller investigated and questioned the two witnesses that Stedman had identified, but the witnesses denied having heard the comments. Pruden denied making the comments as well. (ECF No. 25-1 at 9.) Stedman believed the witnesses falsely denied not hearing the comments because they, like Pruden, are African American and they were protecting Pruden. (ECF No. 25-1 at 9.) Pruden also made comments about the shape of Stedman's breasts. (ECF No. 25-1 at 8-9.)

         Stedman claims that he was harassed by coworkers who called him “Titties” or “Titty Boy.” When he reported this to Commissioner Miller, Miller spoke with the individuals involved. Stedman did not complain to Miller about such name-calling again, so Miller assumed that the name-calling had stopped (ECF No. 25-2 at 5.) Stedman said that he was sure Pruden made some other comments to him, but he could not recall them at his deposition. (ECF No. 25-1 at 9.) Stedman also identified Lorenzo De La Rosa as a coworker who did not treat him kindly; according to Stedman, De La Rosa was “a nasty person as far as rude with a lot of stuff.” (ECF No. 25-1 at 12.)

         Several witnesses corroborated Stedman's account of harassment. Michael Johnson testified that “it was pretty well known that . . . Stedman would relay anything that was going on [to Stillman].” (ECF No. 43-3 at 7.) Coworker John Norton testified that Stedman was taunted at the Street Department and that his nickname at the Street Department was “Tits, ” which was used pretty consistently. (ECF No. 43-4 at 11-12.) Norton also stated that he witnessed about four other Department employees juggle Stedman's breasts. (ECF No. 43-4 at 12.) Jerry Hoopingarner testified that other employees, including De La Rosa, called Stedman “Titty Boy all the time.” (ECF No. 43-2 at 16.)

         Another aspect of the allegedly harassing conduct took the form of comments to and the playing of songs for Stedman that suggested he and Stillman were in a romantic relationship. Stedman was asked, “Is your boyfriend back?” in reference to Stillman, and at least two witnesses testified that songs such as “My Boyfriend's Back, ” “Only the Lonely, ” and “Crybaby” were played to harass Stedman; the song playing occurred around the same time that Stillman was off work following an injury, after his return to work in April 2016, and again when his employment was terminated. (ECF No. 43-2 at 16; ECF No. 43-6 at 8.) Other songs were played to harass Stedman. (ECF No. 43-2 at 17.) Stedman stated that Paul Stone would play sexual songs and Ray Hollingsworth would sing “Your boyfriend's back” to Stedman. (ECF No. 25-1 at 10.) Scott Eisman testified that if Bryan Driskill and Russel Pruden did not like someone, they would make that person's “life a living hell” and refuse to fix his equipment. (ECF No. 43-6 at 9.)

         In February 2015, because of complaints about harassment in the Street Department, Jama DeBow, the City's Human Resources Director, interviewed numerous Street Department employees about the alleged harassment. (ECF 25-3 at 3-4.) Among the employees she spoke with, Stillman was “the common denominator” for complaints. (ECF No. 25-3 at 5.) DeBow recommended to the City Attorney that Stillman's employment be terminated. (ECF No. 25-3 at 8.) In late 2015 through early 2016, Stillman was off work because of a knee injury. (ECF No. 25-5 at 7.)

         In April 2016, before Stillman returned to work, twenty-seven employees in the Street Department signed a petition complaining of harassment by Stillman over ten years and asking for his termination or transfer out of the Department. (ECF No. 25-4.) The City Legal Department interviewed the complaining employees and informed Miller that he should suspend Stillman with pay until a final decision had been made. (ECF No. 25-3 at 6-7; ECF 25-2 at 6.) A few weeks later, the Legal Department recommended that Stillman be terminated, and Miller terminated Stillman's employment. (ECF No. 25-2 at 6).

         Shortly thereafter, Stedman resigned effective May 31, 2016. (ECF No. 25-1 at 3, 22.) He alleges that after Stillman's termination, Pruden threatened him, “you're next, ” and Stedman reported this to Miller who assured Stedman that Pruden had no authority to fire him. (ECF No. 25-1 at 20-21). Pruden was not a supervisor, foreman, or otherwise authorized to terminate Stedman's employment. (ECF No. 25-1 at 21.) According to Stedman, once Stillman was put on leave prior to his termination, the verbal harassment of Stedman eased up and he was instead given the silent treatment. (ECF No. 25-1 at 18.) Stedman could not recall any acts of harassment or abuse of Stedman after Stillman's employment was terminated. (ECF No. 25-1 at 19.) Nonetheless, Stedman had concluded that he would not be left alone, and he was taking anxiety medication because of the harassment and bullying at work. (ECF No. 43-9 at 1.) So he decided to resign.

         Stedman was never threatened with termination by anyone with authority to fire him. (ECF No. 25-1 at 17-18.) Stedman was never suspended. (ECF No. 25-1 at 17.) Neither his pay nor his hours were changed; however, Stedman had requested the day off for his birthday, but a secretary pulled out his request from the schedule because she did not like him. (ECF No. 25-1 at 17-18, 22-23.)

         Stedman explained that he was “forced” to retire because he knew he “was going to have to carry around a recorder every day that [he went] in and face these people that were bad.” (ECF No. 25-1 at 18.) When Stedman had complained to Miller that people were teasing Stedman, Miller told Stedman that it might be because of his association with Stillman, and because “just about everybody at one time or another had a problem with” Stillman. (ECF No. 25-2 at 5.) Miller recommended that Sted-man wear a tape recorder at work in order to obtain proof of alleged harassment. (ECF No. 43-10 at 11.) Stedman also said that his decision to retire was due in part to his “just holding a grudge and staying mad at times” and that “[m]aybe I shouldn't have done that. I'm just the guy that don't like to be messed with. I was trying to do my job and go home.” (ECF No. 25-1 at 13.)

         In August 2017, Stedman filed his Complaint, alleging retaliatory discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a state-law claim for negligent supervision. The City has moved for summary judgment on all claims.

         II. ...

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