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TROTTA v. MOBIL OIL CORP.

April 8, 1992

MARIANNE TROTTA, Plaintiff, - v - MOBIL OIL CORPORATION, Defendant.

Edelstein


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID N. EDELSTEIN

OPINION & ORDER

EDELSTEIN, District Judge:

 In this action, plaintiff Marianne Trotta ("Ms. Trotta" or "plaintiff") claims that Mobil Oil Corporation ("Mobil" or "the company" or "defendant") subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her sex in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. In support of her claim, plaintiff alleges that Mobil allowed sexually offensive conduct at mandatory business meetings and related social functions. According to plaintiff, these functions included the presence of female strippers and women clad in leather astride motorcycles, as well as the presentation of sexually suggestive gifts. In what plaintiff claims was "the last straw," one of her supervisors projected a slide of her backside on to a movie screen at a company outing. Plaintiff alleges that Mobil's sexually hostile work environment caused her to leave the company.

 Mobil rejects plaintiff's contention that it fostered a sexually hostile work environment, and instead argues that plaintiff sued after a corporate reorganization affected her job prospects within the company. Mobil asserts that due to the reorganization, a promotion that plaintiff had wanted in New York would have required relocating to Fairfax, Virginia. When plaintiff refused to relocate, another woman received the promotion. In addition, the reorganization resulted in a transfer to Virginia of plaintiff's role in the budgeting process, which was her favorite part of the job. Noting that plaintiff actively pursued alternate employment opportunities before the slide show incident, defendant alleges that the effects of the corporate reorganization, and not a supposedly hostile work environment, prompted plaintiff's resignation. Defendant contends that plaintiff collected the farrago of incidents alleged in this lawsuit after the fact, and that these incidents did not adversely affect her employment. Even if the incidents plaintiff complained of occurred as she described them, defendant claims that the incidents were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment under Title VII.

 This Court conducted a bench trial of this action after which both sides submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the following constitutes this Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 I. Plaintiff's Employment History

 Ms. Trotta is a female citizen of the United States who resides in Mamaroneck, New York. [Stipulated Fact ("Stip.") No. 1; Trial transcript ("Tr.") at 14]. During her employment at Mobil, which lasted from December 21, 1980 through August, 1988, she held several different positions and received a number of promotions. [Stip. No. 2]. From December 22, 1980 to May 1981, Ms. Trotta served as a Marketing Representative in Training at an annual salary of $ 21,000. [Stip. No. 3; Tr. at 15]. From May 1981 until February 1986, Ms. Trotta served as a Marketing Representative beginning at a grade level 9 and an annual salary of $ 24,130.54. During this period, she received salary increases each year and her grade level progressed to a level 12. [Stip. Nos. 4 & 5; Tr. 19-20]. From February 1986 to August 1988, Ms. Trotta served as an administrative supervisor in the Westchester/Connecticut Resale Sales District at a grade 13 salary level. [Stip. No. 6]. Ms. Trotta's last pay raise at Mobil was effective July 1, 1988, which gave her a salary of $ 44,500 per year. [Stip. No. 7].

 Ms. Trotta's resignation from Mobil took effect on August 31, 1988. She left Mobil to work at Richter Properties Inc. ("Richter Properties") at a salary of $ 37,000. [Tr. at 97]. On March 31, 1989, Ms. Trotta left Richter Properties. On April 10, 1989, ten days later, Ms. Trotta started working at MCI Telecommunications Corp. ("MCI") as a Manager of Expense and Compensation at a salary of $ 45,000. [Stip. Nos. 38 & 39; Tr. at 14, 97]. Ms. Trotta testified at trial that her job at MCI has worked out well, and in April 1990, her salary increased to $ 48,600. [Tr. at 98, 122].

 II. Mobil's Reorganization and Ms. Trotta's Reaction

 In February 1988, Mobil announced a reorganization of its Resale Division, where Ms. Trotta was then employed. [Stip. No. 10]. At the time of this announcement, the highest ranking person within the Westchester/Connecticut Resale Sales District was Judy Schultz, who served as the District Sales Manager. [Stip. No. 8]. It became Ms. Schultz's responsibility to explore job opportunities for all employees in the District whose jobs would be affected by the reorganization, and to discuss with each employee his or her options. [Tr. at 215]

 Because Ms. Trotta's job was affected by the reorganization, Ms. Schultz met with Ms. Trotta on February 9, 1988, to discuss plaintiff's employment options. Also present at the meeting were Patricia Hepp, the Field Marketing Employee Relations Representative, and Reid Grimes, Ms. Trotta's immediate supervisor. [Stip. No. 11; Tr. at 57, 216, 268]. At the meeting, Ms. Trotta was offered two jobs: (1) a promotion to a grade 14 position in Fairfax, Virginia, or (2) a staff analyst position at her current salary and grade level in the Westchester/Connecticut District. [Stip. No. 12; Tr. at 57, 216, 273; Defendant's Exhibit ("Def. Exh.") 2].

 While a final determination about the duties associated with each job had not been made, Ms. Schultz told Ms. Trotta that administrative budgeting, Ms. Trotta's favorite task, would be transferred to Fairfax, Virginia. Other parts of Ms. Trotta's job were to remain in the Westchester/Connecticut District. [Tr. at 216, 224, 234].

 At the February 9, 1988 meeting, Ms. Trotta inquired whether she could resign her position at Mobil and take a severance package. [Tr. at 108]. Ms. Hepp advised Ms. Trotta that, pursuant to Mobil policy, she would not be entitled to severance pay upon resigning because she had been offered a position at Mobil. [Tr. at 109; Def. Exh. 2, 14].

 Ms. Trotta became further aggravated about her employment situation after attending a meeting with Terry McKenna, her supervisor and the District Administrative and Controls Manager, on July 27, 1988. At this meeting, Ms. Trotta learned that Ms. Schultz had offered another female, Cindy Vallorani, a grade 14 position within the district. [Stip. No. 15; Tr. at 74-75]. Then, in meetings on July 27 and 29, 1988, Ms. Trotta told Mr. McKenna of her displeasure over Ms. Vallorani's grade 14 position because she felt that Ms. Vallorani was receiving a promotion to a higher level while performing the same job as Ms. Trotta. [Stip. No. 31]. Mr. McKenna explained to Ms. Trotta that Ms. Vallorani's job was not identical to plaintiff's job because Ms. Vallorani's job entailed a transfer to Mobil's headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia within 18 months to two years. [Stip. No. 32; Tr. at 59, 74]. In that same conversation with Mr. McKenna, Ms. Trotta reiterated her lack of interest in relocating to Fairfax. [Tr. at 110]. Ms. Vallorani did in fact relocate, initially to Fairfax, Virginia and then to Dallas, Texas. [Tr. at 218].

 As a result of the reorganization and the substance of discussion at the February 9, 1988 meeting, which left Ms. Trotta unhappy with her job opportunities within Mobil, Ms. Trotta immediately started looking for other employment. [Tr. at 109]. During the Spring of 1988, she actively pursued other employment with the help of several employment agencies. [Stip. No. 14; Tr. at 111]. Ms. Trotta gave the employment agencies a copy of her resume, explained the reorganization and downsizing at Mobil, and requested that they identify job opportunities outside the company. [Tr. at 60]. In a letter dated April 10, 1988, Ms. Trotta wrote to PepsiCo seeking employment. In the letter, Ms. Trotta explained that "Mobil Oil is continuing to consolidate, thus severely limiting advancement opportunities. For this reason I have begun to look elsewhere." [Tr. at 111; Def. Exh. 3]. Ms. Trotta accepted the first job she received offer from another company. [Tr. at 109].

 III. The Atlantic City Outing, Scavenger Hunt, and Slide Show

 In July, 1988, before Ms. Trotta obtained a job outside Mobil, the Westchester/Connecticut District sponsored an outing in Atlantic City, New Jersey. [Stip. No. 16]. Ms. Trotta described the event as a district function designed to entertain and amuse employees. [Tr. at 62]. Almost all of those attending the outing travelled to Atlantic City in a chartered bus that departed from Greenwich, Connecticut. Ms. Trotta, however, drove to Atlantic City in her own car. [Stip. No. 17].

 One event at the outing was a group scavenger hunt. Participants in the scavenger hunt divided into teams, each of which received a camera to take pictures of the event. Ms. Trotta did not object to the scavenger hunt. In fact, she participated in it. [Stip. No. 19; Tr. at 112]. At the end of the scavenger hunt, Jack Whalen, one of Ms. Trotta's scavenger hunt teammates, was returning to a restaurant with other members of his team in order to hand in the team's scavenger hunt items. As other Mobil employees walked down the boardwalk in front of him, he noticed one picture left in the team's camera and took a picture. [Tr. at 236].

 Mr. Whalen put the pictures in the team bag with other pictures of the scavenger hunt. He did not know at the time, nor could he have known, that the pictures would be converted into slides. [Tr. at 237]. It was only after the scavenger hunt that Ms. Schultz had the idea to convert pictures taken during the scavenger hunt into slides to be shown at a dinner during the outing. [Stip. No. 20]. After reviewing her own team's pictures, Ms. Schultz thought it would be fun for everyone at the outing to view the pictures. [Tr. at 219]. Ms. Schultz had not seen any photographs of Ms. Trotta, or any photographs taken by other teams, when she suggested to Mr. McKenna that they convert scavenger hunt pictures into slides. [Tr. at 219].

 Mr. McKenna and another district employee, Maury Billig, went through the photographs of the scavenger hunt and removed those pictures that did not depict people, such as pictures of a telephone pole and the sky. [Tr. at 250]. They sent the remaining pictures to a camera shop to be converted into slides. Mr. McKenna did not direct the camera shop to alter the pictures in any way, and did not examine the slides when they came back from the camera shop. [Tr. at 251]. Mr. McKenna hoped that the slides would depict all the activities and participants involved in the scavenger hunt so that collectively the slides would capture the flavor and spirit of the event. [Tr. at 261]. In addition, Mr. McKenna and Mr. Billig included pictures of themselves working with hotel staff, cooks, housekeepers, and bellhops. [Tr. at 251].

 Although Ms. Trotta learned that a photograph of her had been converted into a slide, she did not ask to see the slide before the slide show, nor did she request that the slide not be shown. [Tr. at 112-13, 251].

 The slides were shown as part of the entertainment after dinner on Thursday night, July 21, 1988. Mr. McKenna provided commentary to accompany the slides. [Stip. No. 22]. One of the slides shown was the picture Mr. Whalen had taken of Ms. Trotta. The slide was not an exact duplicate of the picture, but had been cropped significantly on the top and bottom, and slightly on the sides. [Tr. at 239].

 There is conflicting testimony about what happened when the slide of Ms. Trotta was shown. Ms. Trotta testified that before Mr. McKenna projected the slide on the screen, he said that it was a slide taken the day of the scavenger hunt, and he thought the group would find it amusing. According to Ms. Trotta, Mr. McKenna added, "this is a rear view of Marianne Trotta." [Tr. at 251]. Mr. McKenna testified that he did not comment on the slide or identify the person in the slide as Ms. Trotta. [Tr. at 252]. Ms. Hepp, who was present at the slide show, testified that Mr. McKenna did not identify Ms. Trotta. [Tr. at 272]. Ms. Hepp stated that she was unable to identify the person in the slide when it was shown and had to ask someone sitting next to her the identity of the person in the slide. [Tr. 272].

 Given the irreconcilable versions of events, this Court must determine whether to credit Ms. Trotta's testimony or Mr. McKenna's and Ms. Hepp's testimony. Ms. Trotta's testimony was sketchy about many events. Rather than testifying candidly about events she observed, Ms. Trotta often made general conclusory statements. Ms. Trotta's testimony about the slide show was uncorroborated. Mr. McKenna and Ms. Hepp were candid witnesses who gave credible testimony. In addition, Mr. McKenna's and Ms. Hepp's testimony about the slide show corroborate each other. I therefore credit Mr. McKenna's and Ms. Hepp's version of events.

 IV. After the Slide Show

 On Monday, July 25, 1988, Ms. Trotta complained to Mr. McKenna about the slide presentation. [Stip. No. 24]. Ms. Trotta told Mr. McKenna that she did not appreciate the slide of her and asked that he give her both the slide and picture. [Tr. at 253]. Mr. McKenna told Ms. Trotta that he was sorry, and that he did not mean to embarrass her in any way. Mr. McKenna then gave her both the slide and the picture, and apologized again. [Tr. at 117-18, 252-53].

 When Ms. Schultz telephoned the office that day, she was told by Mr. McKenna that Ms. Trotta had asked for and received the slide and the picture of her. [Tr. at 220]. Because at the time Ms. Schultz did not remember the slide of Ms. Trotta, she asked Mr. McKenna to have a picture developed from the negative so that she could see the picture upon returning to the office that week. [Tr. at 220]. Upon her return, she received a detailed account from Mr. McKenna about his meeting with Ms. Trotta. Although Ms. Schultz asked Mr. McKenna for a copy of the picture, Mr. McKenna could not produce one because there was no negative. [Tr. at 221].

 Although Ms. Trotta had in the past lodged complaints with Employee Relations, she never registered any objection to the slide show incident. [Tr. at 118]. In explaining her decision not to register a complaint, Ms. Trotta testified that she did not call Employee Relations because an Employee Relation's Representative, Ms. Hepp, was present at the outing. [Tr. at 118]. Ms. Trotta, however, also testified that she could have called other Mobil employees to complain about the incident. [Tr. at 118].

 Ms. Trotta also testified about two separate exchanges she had with fellow employees. She testified to having had two phone conversations with two male co-workers after the Atlantic City event. One told her not to worry about the slide show, that he thought she "looked great" and "was very sexy." [Tr. at 77-78]. Ms. Trotta testified that she told the co-worker that she was upset about the slide and did not want to discuss it. [Tr. at 77]. According to Ms. Trotta, another male co-worker told her he thought the photograph was great because "he liked round people, he was round himself." [Tr. at 78]. According to Ms. Trotta, any discussion about the slide died down by August -- before she received a job offer from Richter Properties and before she submitted her resignation. [Tr. at 119].

 V. Ms. Trotta's Resignation

 Although Ms. Trotta began looking for a job immediately after the February 9, 1988 meeting with Ms. Schultz, Ms. Trotta did not tender her resignation until she found another job. [Tr. at 93]. This occurred on August 15, 1988, when Ms. Trotta received a job offer from Richter Properties. [Stip. No. 25; Tr. at 93]. This offer was the first one that Ms. Trotta had received since she began looking for another job in February 1988. Four days later, on August 19, 1988, Ms. Trotta submitted her resignation to Ms. Schultz, effective August 31, 1988. [Stip. No. 26; Tr. 79; Pl. Exh. 12].

 In her resignation letter, Ms. Trotta first complained about "recent personnel changes within the company in general, and the District in particular." [Stip. No. 27; Pl. Exh. 12]. Ms. Trotta admitted that this complaint referred to Ms. Vallorani. [Tr. at 119-20]. Plaintiff also complained that her position in the district was "grossly undervalued." [Stip. No. 28; Tr. at 81]. This complaint also referred to Ms. Vallorani. [Stip. No. 30]. At trial, Ms. ...


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