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Rebelo, Brennan Obtain Summary Judgment for Nonprofit Organization

Burns White attorneys Mary-Jo Rebelo and Courtney C. Brennan won summary judgment in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania for a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania sued by a former employee who alleged that he was sexually harassed by his supervisor, and then retaliated against for reporting the harassment.  Plaintiff, a male, alleged that his termination was an unlawful retaliation because he engaged in protected activity related to complaints of alleged sexual harassment.  Plaintiff’s Complaint set forth claims for sexual harassment and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  On July 20, 2020, the Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims for hostile work environment sexual harassment and retaliation was granted and Plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

Attorneys Rebelo and Brennan argued that Plaintiff could not maintain a claim for hostile work environment sexual harassment under Title VII because the alleged incidents and comments did not rise to the level required to be so “severe or pervasive” as to establish a hostile work environment.  The court concluded that these “less-than-severe incidents”, which included mostly comments about Plaintiff’s eyes and looks, were not so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of Plaintiff’s employment and, therefore, Plaintiff had not satisfied a required element of a prima facie hostile work environment claim.

In defense of the Plaintiff’s retaliation claim, Attorneys Rebelo and Brennan argued that because he did not report any incidents of alleged sexual harassment to management, Plaintiff did not engage in protected activity and, consequently, could not establish a prima facie case of retaliation.

Based on the evidentiary record, the court concluded that Plaintiff had not established his claim that management was on notice about his concerns about his supervisor’s behavior and conduct in sexually harassing him. The court found that Plaintiff’s own testimony did not support his contention that he engaged in any protected activity.   Specifically, the court found that neither  Plaintiff nor his co-worker to whom he allegedly reported the sexual harassment had, in fact, told management about any sexual harassment when each had an opportunity to do so.  While Plaintiff acknowledged that he never personally reported any alleged sexual harassment, he testified that he expected his co-worker had informed management.  However, that co-worker testified that she also did not tell any management-level employee about Plaintiff’s alleged sexual harassment complaints.  Accordingly, Attorneys Rebelo and Brennan argued that the Plaintiff did not present any question of material fact to satisfy his burden on the retaliation claim. Absent any evidence that Plaintiff engaged in protected activity, the court concluded that Plaintiff’s retaliation claim could not survive summary judgement.