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Walter v. Zoological Society of Cincinnati

February 14, 2007

MARY ALICE WALTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF CINCINNATI D/B/A CINCINNATI ZOO & BOTANICAL GARDEN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: District Judge Susan J. Dlott

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This matter is before the Court in this matter on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 15). For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Both parties set forth the factual history giving rise to this lawsuit in detail. The Court herein will recount only those portions of the evidentiary record necessary to determine the Defendant's motion.

Defendant Zoological Society of Cincinnati d/b/a Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden ("the Zoo" or "Cincinnati Zoo") hired Plaintiff Mary Alice Walter in July 1997 as a secretary in the Volunteer Service Office ("VSO"). In late 1998, the Zoo promoted Walter to the position of Volunteer Coordinator. This case arises from Walter's allegations that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor and the Zoo's Human Resources Director, Robert Coleman, intermittently from September 1999 through June 2002. Her primary allegations are that Coleman gave her an unsolicited kiss and placed his hands on her buttocks in September 1999 following the Zoofari fundraising event at the Zoo and that he wheedled his way into the hot tub at her home in June 2002 following a Zoo softball game. She alleges that he sat naked in the hot tub, rubbed an arm and leg against her, and exposed himself to her.

In between these events, Walter alleges that Coleman made inappropriate comments to her. Walter testified that Coleman (1) made comments filled with innuendo that she had a sexual relationship with a male who rented a room at her house, (2) talked about his prior sexual experiences, including that his wife found him with other women before they were married, (3) suggested that she share a hotel room with him when they attended an out-of-town work conference, and (4) implied that Walter should spend a weekend at a cabin in Kentucky with him. Regarding the third incident, Walter stated that she was shocked and had to leave the office after Coleman had asked her if "maybe you'll even let me stay in your [hotel] room." (Walter Dep. at 67.) Walter did not attend the conference. Regarding the fourth incident, Walter stated that Coleman told her that he wanted to see if he could get into trouble at the cabin and he did not think it was something his wife would want to do.

Walter further alleges that Coleman treated her differently in the workplace after she rebuffed him following the June 2002 hot tub incident. Generally, she alleges that he was less supportive of the VSO, scrutinized her work more carefully, and criticized her performance. She also alleges that he interfered with her relationships with co-workers and Zoo management. Walter reported Coleman for sexual harassment to the Zoo President in December 2002. The Zoo forced Coleman to resign following an investigation.

Karen Wilson replaced Coleman after he resigned. Walter learned from Wilson after Coleman's resignation that Wilson had reported Coleman for sexual harassment in mid-1998.

Coleman was required to apologize to Wilson after those alleged incidents of harassment, but he was not otherwise disciplined.

Despite the fact that Wilson also was an alleged victim of harassment, Walter asserts that Wilson and other Zoo management retaliated against her for reporting Coleman after December 2002. She alleges that she was cut off from regular communication with Zoo management, including from Gregory Hudson, the Zoo President, and Jack Huelsman, a Senior Vice President, and from David Jenike and Dan Marsh from the Zoo Education Department. She also alleges that she was denied adequate paid staffing in the VSO needed to fulfill the duties assigned to VSO. Walter resigned her employment in December 2003 and asserts now that she was constructively discharged.

Walter filed the instant suit against the Cincinnati Zoo on May 11, 2005. She asserted sexual discrimination, retaliation, and related claims arising from Coleman's purported harassing conduct and the Zoo's response to her complaints about Coleman. Discovery is completed. The Cincinnati Zoo now has moved for summary judgment on all claims asserted against it and Walter has filed her briefs in opposition.

II. STANDARDS GOVERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate if no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party has the burden of showing that no genuine issues of material fact are in dispute, and the evidence, together with all inferences that can permissibly be drawn therefrom, must be read in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986).

The moving party may support a motion for summary judgment with affidavits or other proof or by exposing the lack of evidence on an issue for which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not rest upon the pleadings but must go beyond the pleadings and "present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986). The nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e). The Court's task is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. A genuine issue for trial exists when there is sufficient "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Discrimination/Sexual Harassment

Walter alleges that she was sexually harassed in violation of Ohio Revised Code ("O.R.C.") chapter 4112 and the common law. To prove a claim of sexual harassment or hostile environment discrimination under Ohio law a plaintiff must establish the following elements:

(1) that the harassment was unwelcome, (2) that the harassment was based on sex, (3) that the harassing conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect the "terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment," and (4) that either (a) the harassment was committed by a supervisor, or (b) the employer, through its agents or supervisory personnel, knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

Hampel v. Food Ingredients Specialties, Inc., 89 Ohio St.3d 169, at syllabus ¶ 2, 729 N.E.2d 726 (2000). Both parties appropriately cite to both Ohio and federal case law in analyzing the sexual harassment claims asserted under Ohio law. Id., 89 Ohio St.3d at 175 (relying on Plumbers & Steamfitters Joint ...


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