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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Safie Specialty Foods Company, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 5, 2019

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff,
v.
Safie Specialty Foods Company, Inc., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER DENYING SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS

          Sean F. Cox United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“E.E.O.C.”), filed this Title VII employment discrimination action against Defendant asserting a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim against it on behalf of two former employees, and a retaliation claim against those same two individuals and two other former employees. Discovery has closed and the case is now before the Court on: 1) the Defendant company's Motion for Summary Judgment; and 2) the EEOC's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to liability. The parties have fully briefed the issues and the Court held a hearing on October 31, 2019. For the reasons set forth below, the Court shall DENY both motions and allow all claims in this action to proceed to a jury trial.

         BACKGROUND

         The E.E.O.C. filed this action against Defendant Safie Specialty Foods Company, Inc. on October 18, 2018. The EEOC's complaint includes two counts, both brought under Title VII. Count I asserts hostile work environment sexual harassment claims on behalf of Nadwa Korkis and Christina Schoenherr. Count II asserts Title VII retaliation claims against the Company on behalf of Korkis, Schoenherr, Lisa Karaszewski, and Bryant Hardiman.

         Discovery in this case closed on July 5, 2019. On July 18, 2019, Defendant Safie filed a summary judgment motion. (ECF No. 17). On August 5, the EEOC filed a “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment On Liability.” (ECF No. 20).

         This Court's practice guidelines are included in the Scheduling Order and provide, consistent with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c) and (e), that:

a. The moving party's papers shall include a separate document entitled Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute. The statement shall list in separately numbered paragraphs concise statements of each undisputed material fact, supported by appropriate citations to the record. . .
b. In response, the opposing party shall file a separate document entitled Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts. The counter-statement shall list in separately numbered paragraphs following the order or the movant's statement, whether each of the facts asserted by the moving party is admitted or denied and shall also be supported by appropriate citations to the record. The Counter-Statement shall also include, in a separate section, a list of each issue of material fact as to which it is contended there is a genuine issue for trial.
c. All material facts as set forth in the Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute shall be deemed admitted unless controverted in the Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts.

(Scheduling Order at 2-3).

         The parties complied with the Court's practice guidelines for motions for summary judgment such that Defendants' summary judgment motion includes a “Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute” (“Def.'s “Stmt. A”) and Plaintiff's response brief includes a “Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts” (“Pl.' s Stmt. A”). In addition, along with Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Plaintiff submitted a “Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute” (“Pl.'s Stmt. B”) and in response, Defendant submitted a “Counter-Statement Of Disputed Facts” (“Def.'s Stmt. B”).

         The relevant evidence submitted by the parties is set forth below.

         The Company And Its Employees And Supervisors

         Defendant Safie Specialty Foods Company, Inc. (“the Company”) packages and distributes packaged foods such as pickles, peppers, carrots, and beets. It is located in Chesterfield Township, Michigan. (Stmts. A at ¶ 1).

         Mary Safie (“Safie”) is the Company's President. Dr. Theresa Pavone is the Vice President of Human Resources and Danielle Rashid was the Consumer Relations and Human Resources Manager at the Company. (Stmts. A at ¶¶ 2-4). Lisa Karaszewski was a Floor Supervisor. Nadwa Korkis was part of the production staff. (Id. at ¶ 8). Christina Schoenherr and Bryant Hardiman were temporary employees at the Company and were employed through Allegience Staffing. (Id. at ¶ 7).

         Hannan Haddad has worked for the Company since 2003. (Haddad Dep. at 11). Haddad is the Quality Assurance / Production Manager. (Id. at 16). Haddad's husband, Wajdi Al-Hanna (“Al-Hanna”)[1], was hired after her and became a Team Leader. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6).

         The Company's Sexual Harassment Training And Policy

         The Company conducted periodic sexual harassment training and had sexual harassment policies in place. (Stmts. A at ¶¶ 9-10). The Company's sexual harassment policy that was in place on March 4, 2015 was the same one in place in February of 2016. (Stmts. B at ¶ 1). The second paragraph of that policy pertains to employees who feel that they have been the victim of harassment and states, “If you believe that you have been the victim of harassment, or know of another employee who has, report it immediately . . .” (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3). The third paragraph of that policy pertains to a supervisor who becomes aware of allegations of harassment and states, “Any supervisor who becomes aware of possible harassment should promptly advise their supervisor or Human Resources Representative who will handle the matter in a timely and confidential manner.” (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5) (emphasis added).

         Evidence Regarding The Company's Prior Notice Of Al-Hanna's Behavior

         Kristine Parker was employed as a Production Floor Supervisor from February of 2012 through March of 2014 and reported to Haddad. (Parker Dep. at 8-10). Parker testified that, while she was a supervisor at the Company, Al-Hanna was a team lead for cooks. (Parker Dep. at 11). She testified that she reported to Haddad and was discouraged from going to Safie. Although Parker was a supervisor and Al-Hanna was just a team lead, Haddad told Parker that she did not have authority over her husband, or another employed named Frank. (Id. at 14).

         During the years she was employed at the Company, Parker observed Al-Hanna interact with other employees of the Company and observed him commit acts that she believed violated the Company's sexual harassment policy. (Id. at 15-16). For example, Parker testified that Al-Hanna would go up to female employees and make gestures or motions with his hands, putting them down by his penis and say the arabic word for “pussy.” (Id. at 16-18).

         Parker testified that she observed Al-Hanna approach a female employee named Becky in an inappropriate manner:

Q. Okay. Did you observe any interactions between Wajdi and Becky?
A. He would always go up to her and get close to her. I never saw him touch her.
Q. Okay.
A. And she would say just go away, go away.
Q. When you observed Wajdi using the word couscous and grabbing his - well -
A. Making a gesture.
Q. Making a gesture, did anybody tell him to stop?
A. Hanan would.
Q. Hanan would tell him to stop?
A. And when I would see him do it, sometimes I would be, like, knock it off, Wajdi. Stop, Joe.

         (Parker Dep at 19). Parker testified that Al-Hanna would stop when confronted, but would just continue doing the same thing later. Parker testified that she was told by Haddad not to go to Safie and that she reported Al-Hanna's inappropriate behavior to Haddad:

Q. Does Mary [Safie] know about - did you ever report this behavior to Mary, Wajdi's behavior to Mary?
A. You could not go to Mary with anything with Joe.
Q. Why not?
A. You were told not to by Hanan.
Q. So did you go to Hanan and report Wajdi's behavior?
A. Yes.
Q. And what did Hanan say to you?
A. She'll take care of it.

         (Parker Dep. at 19-20). Parker further testified that when she did try to report Al-Hanna's behavior to Safie anyway, it was not well-received, and that Haddad's own supervisor heard Haddad make inappropriate sexual remarks and did nothing:

Q. Do you recall a conversation you had with Mary Safie about Wajdi's sexual comments and Mary told you to leave the situation alone?
A. We would tell Mary things and we would be said to leave things alone, it would be handled, get out of my office, ass hole.
Q. Who would say that to you?
A. Mary Safie has called everybody an ass hole. You had no respect. I had no respect as a supervisor. I was a puppet. Whatever Hanan would tell me to do, I had to follow through.
Q. So, again, as far as Wajdi's sexual behavior that you observed and that you spoke about earlier, is it your testimony that you believe that even if you told Mary - I mean, what would you think, based on working with Mary, what would she do?
A. I know nothing would have been done. It didn't matter. I went to my supervisor about what Hannan was saying to me and he did nothing, so -
Q. When you say your supervisor, when you say he, who are you talking about?
A. My supervisor was Chuck, Chuck Drogosch. He was standing there when things were being said.
Q. What things are you talking about, Ms. Parker?
A. Hanan Hadadd, when she found out that I was gay, said I needed to go on a trip with Mary, one of the business trips and have sex with Mary to make her more relaxed.

(Id. at 20-21).

         Fabiola Lopez gave a sworn statement stating that she worked at the Company for six years. Lopez states that she worked with Al-Hanna and that he made sexually inappropriate comments at the workplace the entire time she worked with him, and that his wife (Haddad) heard him make those comments. She also testified that Al-Hanna “stared a lot” at female employees. (ECF No. 22-40).

         The Alleged Conduct By Al-Hanna That Created A Hostile Work Environment For Korkis And Schoenherr

         Korkis began working at the Company in January of 2015. (Korkis Decl., ECF No. 20-15). Korkis states that Al-Hanna sexually harassed her the entire time that she was employed at the Company. (Id.). As to that harassment, Korkis states that:

8. . . . . He asked me to meet with him at the Meijer store near Safie and I refused.
9. Alhanna also asked me to meet him outside of work for sex. This happened approximately ten times. He said to me that he loved me, and that he wanted me to meet him somewhere where people at work could not see us. I told him no, I am a married woman, and to stop asking me because he was like a father or an older uncle.
10. Almost every day, Alhanna would make sexual comments to me. Sometimes he would say them loudly, other times he would whisper them inches from my ear. The things he would say included:
• “Oh my God, my heart is hurting me, My God make her safe . . .”
• “Mary Mother of God, save the floor Nadwa walks on, what is this ass she has”
• “I love your ass”, “I love your butt”
• “Oh my God, I dreamed about you”
• “In my dreams, I feel your boobs and your butt . . . Oh my God!”
• That he would like to “fuck me.”
• “In my dreams, I have fucked you, and it was so good . . . !”
11. On a daily basis, Alhanna stared at my breasts and butt. He would repeatedly walk behind me staring at my butt.
12. On a daily basis, Alhanna would find any opportunity he could to bump into me or stand right next to me with his shoulders or hip touching me. On several occasions, he followed me up the stairs for no reason, looking at my butt. Because the area where the stairs are is so small, Alhanna would purposely push his body up to mine and would intentionally touch my butt.
13. Alhanna sat near me during lunch and he would touch me on my leg. I would often choose to sit in my car to eat because he made me feel so uncomfortable.
14. His sexual comments and behavior made me extremely uncomfortable and made it difficult to work. I often dreaded coming to work because I was afraid of what Alhanna would do or say. I told Alhanna to please stop talking to me that way because it was not right.
15. On a daily basis, Alhanna tried to get me to eat the food that he cooked. I would always refuse.
16. One day, Alhanna forced food into my mouth with his bare hands, forcing his fingertips in my mouth. I was disgusted. It seemed like his purpose was to get a part of his body inside my mouth.
17. Alhanna would get upset if men working at Safie spoke to me. Certain men were afraid to speak to me because they were afraid of Alhanna.
18. One day during the summer of 2015, it was extremely hot on the production floor and everyone was wearing tank tops or short sleeved shirts instead of the wrap around jacket we normally wear. I wore a short sleeved shirt that day, and Alhanna was staring at my breasts. Haddad was standing close to us while this was happening.
19. The next day, Haddad told me to make sure I wear a jacket to work, even though it was very hot and everyone was wearing tank tops and short sleeved shirts.
20. I believe Haddad saw Alhanna constantly harass me and harass Christina Schoenherr. Haddad usually stood very close to me or next to me while I was cutting beets. Haddad could see and hear Alhanna while he was making sexual comments to me and touching me.
27. I saw Alhanna touch Christina Schoenherr. He would touch her on her shoulders. He would try to hug her and she would jump away. When Alhanna got very close to Schoenherr, I saw her put her head down and try to move away from him.
28. I heard Alhanna talk about Christina Schoenherr in a sexually suggestive manner almost daily. He would talk about her breasts to people on the production floor. He said that she had a big ass in Arabic. He would stare at Schoenherr's butt and breasts.

(Id. at ¶¶ 8-28).

         Christina Schoenherr was a temporary employee at the Company who began working there in December of 2015. (Schoenherr Decl., ECF No. 2016). Schoenherr also claims to have been sexually harassed by Al-Hanna while working at the Company:

8. Wajdi Alhanna and Hannan Haddad directed what I did at work. Alhanna would tell me where to stand, tell me where I had to work (assign my table), and assign me tasks on a daily basis (e.g. peel beets or pack pickles). I knew Wajdi Alhanna as “the ...

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