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Sloth v. Constellation Brands, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 19, 2013

Vicky SLOTH, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSTELLATION BRANDS, INC., John Bognaski, John Elliot, Sheldon Richardson, Barbara Bagshaw, Clayton Brower, individually and in their Official Capacities, Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Michael Cobbs, Brown & Hutchinson, Rochester, NY, for Plaintiff.

John Eric Higgins, Nixon Peabody LLP, Albany, NY, for Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Vicky Sloth (" Sloth" ), brings this employment discrimination claim against the defendants claiming that she was sexually harassed during the entire course of her 28-year employment with defendant Constellation Brands, (" Constellation" ) and retaliated against for complaining of sexual harassment. By Decision and Order dated June 8, 2012, 883 F.Supp.2d 359 (W.D.N.Y.2012), I granted in-part and denied in-part defendants' motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Specifically, I dismissed the majority of plaintiff's claims, but permitted her to proceed on her federal and state claims of hostile work environment

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and quid pro quo sexual harassment against defendant Constellation, and her state law claims of hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment against defendant Bognaski. Plaintiff's claims of retaliation were not addressed by the court.

Defendants now move for reconsideration of this court's Decision and Order arguing that this court failed to give appropriate consideration to findings of fact made by the New York State Workers' Compensation Board (" the Board" or " WCB" ) in a case denying plaintiff's claim for worker's compensation benefits. Defendants contend that this court is required to adopt the findings of the Workers' Compensation board, or at the very least, give substantial weight to the factual findings of the Board. Defendants argue that if the Board's findings are given appropriate weight, then defendants are entitled to summary judgment because the findings of the Board establish that the plaintiff did not suffer any sexual harassment or discrimination, nor was she retaliated against. Defendants further contend that the court failed to appropriately calculate the tolling period for plaintiff's state law claims, and failed to address defendants' request that plaintiff's retaliation claims be dismissed.

Plaintiff objects to defendants' motion, but failed to timely file an opposition memorandum of law to the defendants' motion. For the reasons set forth below, I deny defendants' motion for reconsideration. Because I find that plaintiff is not prohibited by the doctrines of res judicata or collateral estoppel from litigating her discrimination claims in this court, and that the findings of the Workers' Compensation Board are not entitled to substantial weight such that they would preclude the plaintiff from proceeding on her claims in this court, I deny the request for reconsideration of this court's partial denial of defendants' motion for summary judgment. With respect to the defendants' claim that this court inappropriately calculated the tolling period for plaintiff's state law claims, I deny defendants' request for reconsideration. Finally, as to defendants' claim that this court failed to address defendants' motion for dismissal, or summary judgment, with respect to plaintiff's claim of retaliation, I find, for the reasons set forth below, that plaintiff has stated a prima facie case of retaliation, and that disputed questions of fact preclude, for the time being, any grant of summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

The following factual allegations were set forth in my June 8, 2012 Decision and Order, and although they are lengthy and complicated, they are set forth again here for purposes of clarity.[1] 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 spirits, 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.

Sloth alleges a litany of complaints dating to the very beginning of her employment with Constellation. She contends that during the " early 1980's", employee

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Harry Davis frequently unhooked her bra. 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. Plaintiff admitted at her Workers' Compensation hearing that she never told anyone about these alleged incidents until 2008.[2] Sloth contends that during the 1980's employee Dave Mitchell accosted her in a storage room and demanded that she have sex with him. Plant Supervisor Mike Hershberger (" Hershberger" ) also, on several occasions, allegedly made obscene and sexually graphic comments to Sloth. Sloth alleges that Hershberger showed her pornographic images on his computer, and gave her a photograph of a penis. 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.

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. She claims that Elliott also refused to promote or recommend her for promotion in retaliation for her refusing to acquiesce to his advances. 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.

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. 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. 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. Although plaintiff in her Complaint alleges that she fell asleep, in her EEOC Complaint she claimed that she had passed out from drinking. She claims that upon awaking, she found Richardson standing over her, and that her blouse had been undone and her shorts unzipped. 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. 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. 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

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that the complaints she had made against Richardson were fabricated.

Sloth alleges that beginning in 1998, defendant John Bognaski, (" Bognaski" ) the director of East Coast Bottling Operations for Constellation, began " a long running and continuous pattern of quid pro quo sexual harassment and retaliation against [her]." She claims that Bognaski attempted to kiss her, and warned her that he would have her fired if she told anyone about the incident. 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. According to Bognaski, he played no role in making work assignments. 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. Several of plaintiff's coworkers, including coworkers 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. Several of plaintiff's co-employees 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. Still other coworkers, 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.

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. 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. 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. Defendants claim that one of plaintiff's coworkers, Mary Henninger, who heard the voice message, described it as " very short and completely innocuous," and that Bognaski did not conduct the annual performance review.

Plaintiff alleges that during a wedding reception in April 2007, she became intoxicated after drinking " several alcoholic beverages." 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]." Sloth claims that Bognaski threatened her that he would fire her if she told anyone what had happened. 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."

In April 2008, plaintiff claims that she took a four week vacation. She alleges that Bognaski asked her to call him while she ...


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