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Vicky Sloth v. Constellation Brands

June 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



Plaintiff Vicky Sloth ("Sloth"), brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq.); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, ("ADEA")(codified at 29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq.); 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the New York State Human Rights Law against her former employer, Constellation Brands, Inc., ("Constellation") and various employees of Constellation claiming that she was sexually harassed by the defendants during almost the entire course of her 28 year employment with Constellation, and has been discriminated against on the basis of her gender, age, race, national origin, and disability.*fn2 Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims on grounds that Sloth's claims are barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel; the individual defendants named in the complaint are not subject to liability; the majority of plaintiff's claims are time barred; those claims that are not time-barred fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with regard to many of her claims, and thus is barred from bringing those claims before this court.

For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted in-part and denied in-part.


The following factual allegations are found in the plaintiff's complaint and Defendants' Statement of Material Facts. As a general matter, the defendants deny all of plaintiff's claims of harassment or discrimination.

Plaintiff Vicky Sloth became employed by Constellation Brands in December, 1980. Constellation is a producer and distributer of wines and spirts, and Sloth worked in the production area of the company as a line attendant. According to Sloth, she suffered numerous acts of gender discrimination and was subjected to a hostile working environment during her entire employment with Constellation Brands, which ended when she was fired from the Company on February 28, 2009.*fn3

Sloth contends that during the "early 1980's", employee Harry Davis frequently un-hooked her bra. (Complaint at ¶ 26). She also claims that in the early 1980's, defendant Clayton Brower ("Brower"), who was the plant supervisor at the time, repeatedly invited Sloth to meet him at a hotel for sexual relations. (Complaint at ¶ 33). Plaintiff admitted at her Workers' Compensation hearing that she never told anyone about these alleged incidents until 2008. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 56, 57) Sloth contends that during the 1980's employee Dave Mitchell accosted her in a storage room and demanded that she have sex with him. (Complaint at ¶ 36). Plant Supervisor Mike Hershberger also, on several occasions, allegedly made obscene and sexually graphic comments to Sloth. (Complaint at ¶ 41). Sloth alleges that Hershberger showed her pornographic images on his computer, and gave her a photograph of a penis. (Complaint at ¶¶ 43, 44). According to the defendants, employee Charito Crouse provided sworn testimony at plaintiff's workers' compensation hearing stating that the picture was a "joke picture" that had been printed from a computer, that the picture was not of a penis, and that both Crouse and Sloth found the picture to be funny. Defendants contend that plaintiff did not complain about Hershberger's alleged behavior until 2008. According to the defendants, Plaintiff admitted at her Workers' Compensation hearing that she never told anyone about these alleged incidents until 2008. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶¶ 76, 78).

Sloth alleges that during "the early 1990's" bottling room supervisor John Elliot ("Elliot") made repeated vulgar sexual advances towards her, and, after she refused his advances, assigned her to the dirtiest and most difficult jobs in the plant. (Complaint at ¶¶ 46-48). She claims that Elliott also refused to promote or recommend Sloth for promotion in retaliation for her refusing to acquiesce to his advances. (Complaint at ¶ 49). Sloth admitted that she never complained of this behavior until 2008, when she made the allegations to an independent medical examiner. Plaintiff admitted at her Workers' Compensation hearing that she never told anyone about these alleged incidents until 2008. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 91) .

Sloth alleges that in approximately 1993 or 1994, co-employee Sheldon Richardson ("Richardson") was assigned to work during plaintiff's shift. She claims that upon his transfer to her shift, Richardson began sexually harassing her. (Complaint at ¶ 51).

Sloth claims that she complained to management about Richardson's behavior, but that Constellation failed to take any action to prevent Richardson from harassing her. (Complaint at ¶ 52). Sloth claims that in 1994 or 1995, after a company picnic, Richardson and several other company employees went to her house, where plaintiff fell asleep. (Complaint at ¶¶ 53, 54). Although plaintiff in her Complaint alleges that she fell asleep, in her EEOC Complaint she claimed that she had passed out from drinking. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 104) She claims that upon awaking, she found Richardson standing over her, and that her blouse had been undone and her shorts unzipped. (Complaint at ¶¶ 54-58). Plaintiff claims that she complained of this conduct to Constellation, but that Constellation took no action because the alleged incident took place at Sloth's home. (Complaint at ¶¶ 60, 61). Plaintiff complained to the police regarding Richardson's conduct, but according to the defendant, no charges were ever brought. She alleges that Richardson continued to harass her after the incident. (Complaint at ¶¶ 59, 65, 66). Although plaintiff made numerous allegations about Richardson to Constellation management, none of her allegations could be substantiated, and in 1995, Sloth signed a letter prepared by Constellation acknowledging that the complaints she had made against Richardson were fabricated. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 503)

Sloth alleges that beginning in 1998, defendant John Bognaski, ("Bognaski") the director of East Coast Bottling Operations for Constellation, began "a long running an continuous pattern of quid pro quo sexual harassment and retaliation against [her]." (Complaint at ¶ 68). She claims that Bognaski attempted to kiss her, and warned her that he would have her fired if she told anyone about the incident. (Complaint at ¶¶ 70, 71). Thereafter, Bognaski allegedly assigned her to work with Richardson, despite her request not to work with him because of his alleged harassment and sexual assault. (Complaint at ¶¶ 74, 75). According to Bognaski, he played no role in making work assignments. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 515) After she refused a work assignment in which she was required to work with Richardson, she was disciplined. When Bognaski called her to his office asking her to explain her refusal to work with Richardson, he allegedly forced her to accompany him to a storage room where he forced her to perform oral sex on him. (Complaint at ¶¶ 79, 80, 82-85). Several of plaintiff's co-workers, including co-workers with whom plaintiff allegedly shared intimate details of her life, testified, or provided written statements indicating that plaintiff never complained of this alleged occurrence at the time it allegedly happened. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶¶ 410, 411, 480, 648, 658, 711, 712, 735, 745) Several of plaintiff's coemployes also testified at plaintiff's workers' compensation hearing that it would have been impossible for Sloth to leave her work station on the production line without the entire line coming to a halt, and therefore, they did not believe that Sloth could have left her workstation and been forced to have sex in a storage room during working hours. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 654, 719) Still other co-workers, including Bognaski himself, testified that because his office was in a main hallway, had several windows, and was a conduit to other rooms used by employees, there was significant, often unannounced traffic in and near his office that would likely have prevented any type of improper physical assault of the plaintiff. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶¶ 420-428, 537-541, 623-626, 742)

In 2003, plaintiff finalized her divorce from her husband, and she alleges that Bognaski thereafter increased his interest in attempting to have sex with her, and began sexually harassing her more frequently. (Complaint at ¶ 86) In 2006, Bognaski allegedly left a message on plaintiff's cell phone inviting her to join him after an evening of going out with her friends. (Complaint at ¶ 97) Sloth claims that Bognaski was upset because Sloth's boyfriend and co-workers heard the message, and as a result, he allegedly gave her, or caused her to receive, a poor annual work-review resulting in a smaller pay raise than other employees received. Complaint at ¶¶ 100, 102, 105). Defendants claim that one of plaintiff's co-workers, Mary Henninger, who heard the voice message, described it as "very short and completely innocuous" (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 196, 405), and that Bognaski did not conduct the annual performance review. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 201).

Plaintiff alleges that during a wedding reception in April 2007, she became intoxicated after drinking "several alcoholic beverages". (Complaint at ¶ 111) She claims that she woke up naked on a bed at an unknown location, with Bognaski standing over her claiming that he, "took advantage of [her]" (Complaint at ¶ 112-115) Sloth claims that Bognaski threatened her that he would fire her if she told anyone what had happened. (Complaint at ¶ 116) According to the defendants, Sloth testified at her Workers' Compensation Hearing that she had been "drinking all day", and that she did not know if she woke up in a truck or a room, and did not know whether Bognaski had "taken advantage of her" because she "was drunk." (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶¶ 208, 212, 213, 214, 222, 223).

In April 2008, plaintiff claims that she took a four week vacation. (Complaint at ¶ 118) She alleges that Bognaski asked her to call him while she was on vacation so he could meet her. (Complaint at ¶ 119) Sloth refused to, and upon returning to work, Bognaski claimed that she "owed him" for failing to call him. (Complaint at ¶ 121)

Thereafter, plaintiff alleges that Bognaski repeatedly attempted to get Sloth into his office alone. (Complaint at ¶ 126, 129) She claims that Bognaski told the Chief Executive Officer of the company that he was "fucking" her, and that in August, 2008, Bognaski told her that he "want[ed] to put [his] cock in [her] mouth." (Complaint at ¶¶ 134, 139). She claims that someone had carved the words "good morning nipples" into her work station, but that Bognaski refused to take any action after she reported it. (Complaint at ¶¶ 135, 136) Defendants claim that although plaintiff alleged in her EEOC charge that she showed the carving to employee Deborah Bilodeau, Bilodeau gave sworn testimony stating that she had never seen such a carving, and had never heard of such an allegation until plaintiff's Workers' Compensation hearing in 2009. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶¶ 242, 244, 245, 687).

In August, 2008, plaintiff alleges that Bognaski retaliated against her for failing to engage in sexual activity with him by scheduling her to work with Richardson. (Complaint at ¶ 141) Plaintiff's requests to be reassigned were refused, and plaintiff was sent home to consider whether or not she would accept her work assignment or face termination of her employment. (Complaint at ¶ 145). Plaintiff returned to work, but continued to complain about being assigned to work with Richardson, and met with defendant Bagshaw to complain about Bognaski's alleged sexual assaults and harassment. (Complaint at ¶ 151) Thereafter, a few days later, plaintiff alleges that she suffered severe chest pain and shortness of breath as a result of having told Bagshaw about Bognaski's behavior. (Complaint at ¶ 153) At some unspecified date, plaintiff alleges that she took medical leave from her employment to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia resulting from the hostile work environment to which she was subjected. (Complaint at ¶ 154) She claims that approximately 6 months after disclosing Bognaski's alleged sexual assaults and behavior, and after filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on August 27, 2008, she was fired from her employment on or about February 28, 2009. (Complaint at ¶ 156) According to the defendants, Sloth's employment was terminated because her approved medical leave expired, and in the company's estimation, plaintiff was not able to return to work. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶¶ 508, 511)

In August 2008, after leaving work with chest pains and while on medical leave, Sloth filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits claiming that she suffered work-related injuries of post traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia as a result of the sexual harassment she endured at Constellation. A hearing was held at which 13 witnesses testified regarding whether or not Sloth suffered her alleged injuries as a result of events that occurred at her workplace. By Decision dated November 30, 2009, Workers' Compensation Board Judge Ronald McEvoy found that Sloth was disqualified from obtaining workers' compensation benefits because she "knowingly made false statements and representations on [her claim form] and to the doctor's who examined her and during the course of her testimony under oath as to the material facts for the purpose of obtaining compensation." As a result, Judge McEvoy denied plaintiff's compensation claim.

Plaintiff appealed Judge McEvoy's determination to the Administrative Review Division of the Workers' Compensation Board (the "Appeals Board"). In a Decision dated June 30, 2010, the Appeals Board declined to decide whether or not Sloth was disqualified from receiving benefits for having made false statements to the Workers' Compensation Board, and instead held that the plaintiff had failed to present any credible evidence that she suffered a compensable injury while employed at Constellation. In so holding, the Appeals Board noted the plaintiff presented no evidence that she had ever been treated for any anxiety, depression, or stress disorder prior to September, 2008; that not a single witness who testified at plaintiff's hearing or submitted a sworn statement supported plaintiff's allegations of harassment; and that there was no credible evidence that Richardson had harassed Sloth.

Thereafter, on January 24, 2011, plaintiff filed the instant case alleging gender, racial, national ...

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