Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Takacs v. Fiore (Maryland U.S.D.C.)(Approved for Publication)

Signed February 8, 2007. Opinion by Judge Catherine C. Blake. Approved for publication.

In her complaint, the plaintiff ("Takacs") alleged sexual harassment by one of the owners of the winery (the "Winery") where she had been employed as salesroom manager, claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") and violation of Title VII, and seeking damages against the owners ("Fiore"), the Winery, and the professional employer organization ("PEO") handling the Winery's human resources responsibilities. Fiore sought summary judgment on the IIED count, and the Winery and PEO sought summary judgment on the Title VII claims.

To prevail on the IIED claim, the judge noted that Takacs must be able to establish 1) conduct that is intentional or reckless, 2) conduct that is extreme and outrageous, 3) a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress, and 4) that the emotional distress must be severe. The judge assumed without deciding that the first three elements could be met, but was unconvinced that the fourth element was satisfied, in light of the fact that Takacs was able to continue to work, and did not allege she was unable to function on a daily basis, and consequently granted dismissal of the IIED count.

On the Title VII count against the Winery, the judge noted that it appeared that Takacs had not established that the Winery was subject to Title VII, in light of the Winery's claim that it had too few employees to meet the EEOC's numerosity requirement, but the judge provided Takacs an opportunity to clarify whether her position was that certain individuals were in fact to be counted as employees, thereby bringing the Winery under EEOC jurisdiction.

On the Title VII count against PEO, PEO challenged its alleged status as the "employer" of Takacs. The judge noted that PEO might be held liable under either "joint employer" or "integrated employer" theories, discounting the former and viewing the latter as more likely, but finding it unnecessary to determine the question, since Takacs had failed to satisfy the imputability prong of the four-part test for a hostile workplace, in that the harasser was not an employee of or controlled by PEO, and PEO was unaware of the harassment. Further, Takacs did not allege that PEO's policies regarding sexual harassment complaints were unreasonable or dispute that she had been advised of those policies, and the judge therefore granted summary judgment in favor of PEO on the Title VII count.

This opinion and order are available in PDF.

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