• Handling of Harassment Claim Neither Prompt nor Appropriate
  • February 5, 2005
  • Law Firm: Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP - Chicago Office
  • In Prindle v. TNT Logistics, a federal court in Wisconsin held that a four-month delay between an employee's complaint of sexual harassment and her employer's termination of the offending employee enabled the complainant to proceed to trial on her harassment claim against the company.

    Tardy Response

    After Prindle's floor supervisor rubbed his hands down her breasts, she complained immediately to her next higher-level supervisor, an operations manager. However, no investigation was undertaken. In the ensuing months, the floor supervisor routinely called Prindle and other females "honey" and "dear." On one occasion, the floor supervisor looked up Prindle's shorts and stated "wow." Prindle's complaint to the operations manager again fell on deaf ears. When higher management finally learned of Prindle's allegations, TNT terminated the operations manager and transferred the floor supervisor to another location at the plant where he would have no further contact with Prindle.

    Prindle sued TNT for sexual harassment. She also claimed that her several-week suspension for an error that caused $90 in property damage to TNT's plant was in retaliation for her harassment complaint and constituted sex discrimination. The court denied TNT's motion for summary judgment on all counts.

    Delay Blamed

    The court initially concluded that Prindle's allegations could rise to the level of a hostile working environment. Although the floor supervisor lacked sufficient authority to impute strict liability to TNT, the court concluded that the company could still be liable for negligence because the operations manager was aware of the floor supervisor's inappropriate conduct but took no action. Although TNT had terminated the operations manager and transferred the floor supervisor to another part of the plant, the court concluded that those actions did not insulate the company from liability.

    Had the operations manager acted promptly, the court explained, the shorts incident and "honey" and "dear" references could have been prevented. Thus, a reasonable jury could conclude that TNT's response was neither prompt nor appropriate. The court also denied summary judgment on Prindle's retaliation and sex discrimination claims, finding many contradictions and ambiguities about the reason for Prindle's suspension and its length, and TNT's handling of other similar incidents.