Dupont, employed by Speedway convenience stores, sued Speedway alleging sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Dupont’s complaint stemmed from her interactions with a coworker, Coryell. For months, Dupont had complained to her superiors that Coryell acted inappropriately with her, both violently and sexually. For instance, Dupont complained that Coryell had inappropriately grabbed her, made sexual comments concerning female customers, and humiliated her. On appeal from a jury verdict, Speedway argued that it was entitled to summary judgment because the record did not establish that the misconduct was directed at Dupont because of her gender and the evidence did not establish that the conduct was so severe or pervasive that it established a hostile work environment. Speedway also argued that it was entitled to a directed verdict because it took prompt remedial action to address Dupont’s complaints. Finally, Speedway argued that the plaintiff should be barred from collecting $75,000 or more because she successfully filed to have the case remanded back to state court on the grounds that the amount in controversy was no more than $50,000 after Speedway obtained removal to federal court. The Court upheld the jury verdict. It found that Coryell’s conduct was motivated by a hostility toward women because of their gender and that the conduct was sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the conditions of Dupont’s employment. Finally, the court found that the award of punitive damages was appropriate because Coryell’s conduct was clearly willful, Speedway had been at least negligent in failing to promptly and adequately respond to Dupont’s complaints, and Dupont requested remand to state court in good faith.
Women and Justice: Court: Florida 5th District Court of Appeal
A female employee brought suit against her former employer for retaliation and sexual harassment based on claims that, among other things, her supervisor was constantly talking about his penis including graphic descriptions of its size, and his sexual prowess, history, successes, and aspirations. Blizzard did not allege that her supervisor’s comments were directed to her. Instead, she alleged that his comments were pervasive and that the female employees who were receptive to his “management style” received favors and preferences that Blizzard did not. Blizzard’s sexual harassment claim against her employer was based on the employer’s creation of a hostile work environment. The trial court granted a directed verdict for the employer. The appellate court explained that to establish a hostile work environment claim based on harassment by a supervisor, Blizzard was required to show: (1) that she is a member of a protected group; (2) that she was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment, (3) that the harassment was based on her sex, (4) that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of her employment and create a discriminatorily abusive working environment; and (5) that there was a basis for holding the employer liable. Relying on the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Jennings v. Univ. of North Carolina, 482 F.3d 686, 695 (4th Cir. 2007), the court found that Blizzard could maintain her claims even though the offensive language and acts at issue were not specifically directed at her and remanded the case for a new trial.
Dupont, employed by Speedway convenience stores, sued her employer alleging a hostile work environment and 13, in violation of Florida’s Civil Rights Act. Dupont’s complaint stemmed from her interactions with a coworker, Coryell, who shared Dupont’s midday shift. Dupont had for months complained to her superiors that Coryell acted inappropriately with her, both violently and sexually. For instance, Dupont complained that Coryell had inappropriately grabbed her, made sexual comments concerning female customers, and humiliated her. Speedway, at the time, had a written 13 policy, yet no action was taken. Speedway continued to place Dupont and Coryell together on the same shift. The Court found Dupont’s claim viable, noting that Coryell’s conduct – even if not entirely sexual in nature – constituted 13 where motivated by a hostility toward women because of their gender. The Court went on to describe Florida’s policy against 13 in the workplace as strong, noting that courts should liberally construe section 760.10, Florida Statutes. Finally, the Court found an award of punitive damages appropriate, even where the jury had not found Speedway’s conduct willful, because Coryell’s conduct was clearly willful and Speedway had been at the very least negligent in failing to respond to Dupont’s complaints.