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VAN ZANT v. KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES

December 14, 1994

Karen Van Zant, Plaintiff,
v.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Kenneth Hasan King, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONSTANCE BAKER MOTLEY

 OPINION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

 This is an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e. Plaintiff, Karen Van Zant, claims that defendant, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines ("KLM"), discriminated against her because of her gender. This discrimination allegedly occurred by allowing a hostile work environment to develop at KLM's Queens office which continued without remedy. Plaintiff also claims that KLM retaliated against her because she complained to the police that she had been sexually harassed in August 1991, by co-defendant Hasan King, a male coworker employed by KLM, who had created the hostile work environment and personally harassed plaintiff.

 FACTS

 Van Zant began to work at KLM on August 17, 1987 in passenger accounting. In 1990 she transferred to the Cargo Division and became a Junior Cargo Accountant, a clerical position. Subsequently, in 1991, Van Zant and other existing staff were upgraded to Senior Accountants. Defendant KLM hired Hasan King in 1989. King was a mailroom clerk whose duties included delivering mail and other packages throughout KLM's facility. He had no supervisory authority over Van Zant and they did not work in close proximity to each other.

 Plaintiff alleges that King repeatedly bragged about his sexual skills, made lewd gestures behind the backs of women employees over a long period of time and exposed himself to her in her office one day. King denied the expose charge. There were no witnesses to the exposure incident.

 During the summer of 1991. Van Zant alleges that King became even more outwardly flirtatious than he had been and increasingly more crude with his sexual comments. Van Zant claims that she did complain of King's behavior to her supervisor, Emily Brown. Van Zant did not make a written complaint until August 26, 1991. She made this complaint because King allegedly exposed himself to her on August 24, 1991. Her supervisor immediately reported this incident to KLM's Human Resources Department. Within the space of one week, Van Zant had been interviewed regarding the incident, a possible witness suggested by Van Zant also had been interviewed but was not an eye witness, King had been interviewed and, although he denied exposing himself to Van Zant, he was reprimanded. He was not fired at the time because he denied the exposure charge and there were no actual witnesses to the incident.

 In that same week, Van Zant called the police and made formal criminal charges against King. He, subsequently, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

 On September 5, 1991, for unrelated reasons, KLM terminated King's employment. KLM discovered that King had made a false statement on his application for employment about a prior conviction.

 Van Zant claims that when she went to court to press her charge against King, one of KLM's supervisory employees passed right by her and shook hands with King in the courthouse hallway and wished him good luck. Van Zant interprets the hand shake as support for King by KLM and hostility to her on the part of a KLM supervisory employee.

 After King's discharge. Van Zant made no further claims of sexual harassment against King. She does claim, however, that in March 1993 while she was working she saw King on KLM's property which greatly upset her. King had been allowed on KLM's premises by another low level employee. Because of this turn of events, KLM offered Van Zant a voluntary, paid leave of absence which she accepted in lieu of on the job security. The leave lasted for several months. The leave, however, was subject to periodic reviews in which Van Zant refused to participate.

 There were no other claims of sexual harassment filed by other women employees against King during his employment at KLM. Van Zant's claim that KLM did nothing about her complaint against King is simply not supported by the evidence in this record. In fact, the evidence support's KLM's claim of prompt and appropriate action. The facts relating to Van Zant's retaliation claim are that in the summer of 1991 she applied for a promotion which she did not receive. In fact, none of the three KLM employees who applied for the position received the promotion. In addition, Van Zant claims that in September 1991 her work environment changed for the worse because her supervisors began to strongly criticize her work and to verbally abuse her. For evidence of this change, Van Zant points to the fact that she was given a poor job performance evaluation and placed on probation in April 1992. However, several other KLM employees who had been recently appointed to the position of Senior Accountant, as plaintiff had been, received low job performance evaluations for the same time period as well. Van Zant also received a low performance rating before the King incident.

 On November 30, 1993 Van Zant was terminated because she had refused to report for an evaluation so that KLM could determine whether her leave of absence should be continued. Van Zant claims that she was fired because she had filed a complaint with the police against King in 1991. Van Zant further claims that her supervisor, Emily Brown, was annoyed with her because she had not sued KLM as Brown had suggested to her months before and that this was the reason for her being fired. On the other hand, Van Zant alleges that her supervisor responded immediately and sympathetically to her initial exposure complaint against King and not only urged her to go to the police but gave her time off to do so.

 Van Zant filed a charge of sexual harassment and employment discrimination with the EEOC on August 4, 1992. She received a Right to Sue Letter on March 11, 1993. Van Zant timely filed a complaint with ...


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