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Shaeffer v. Anderson Management Company, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 9, 2014

ANN L. SHAEFFER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDERSON MANAGEMENT COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

KENNETH G. GALE, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed this action alleging violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000(e) for sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge. She claims that the non-employee husband of one of Defendant employer's managers sexually harassed her at the workplace on numerous occasions and that when she reported the harassment she was fired. The Court finds that there are insufficient facts from which a jury could find that Defendant's discharge was in retaliation for her report of sexual harassment. However, issues of fact remain sufficient to permit a finding by a jury that the employer was negligent in failing to stop the harassment once it began. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgement (Doc. 18) is, therefore, GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

Statement of Facts

In accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the following facts are either uncontroverted or, if controverted, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

Defendant Anderson Management Company, Inc. (AMC) is a real estate management company which manages seven "U-Stor" self-storage operations in Wichita. Troy Hagerman is the property manager (hereinafter "property manager") and was Plaintiff's supervisor during her employment with Defendant.

Each location is managed by a local full-time manager who also lives on the property (herein referred to as the "site manager"). Plaintiff was a relief manager who was employed to relieve site managers when necessary. Relief managers generally work at multiple locations during their employment. Plaintiff began her employment for Defendant in 2010. During her employment with AMC, Plaintiff worked at all 7 U-Stor locations at one time or another.

The site manager at the University U-Stor location lived at the facility with her children and her husband. Plaintiff alleges that the site manager's husband (not an employee of Defendant) sexually harassed her at the University location on five separate occasions from January 22, 2012 to April 28, 2012. On these occasions the site manager's husband exposed his genitals, touched Plaintiff's breasts, attempted other sexual contact, and/or made inappropriate comments. After incidents on February 12 and April 28, Plaintiff informed the site manager of what occurred; the site manager (who is married to the harasser) refused to believe Plaintiff.

Plaintiff's responsibilities as relief manager included renting units, dealing with customer contact, information and accounts, dealing with auctions, securing the properties, overseeing the properties when the full-time managers are gone, and completing day-to-day paperwork. It is imperative that Defendant be able to trust its relief managers because, like site managers, they have access to sensitive confidential information about the business and its customers, as well as access to Defendant's properties and facilities.

When a customer who is renting a U-Stor storage unit is delinquent in rent payments, AMC can foreclose on the unit and sell its contents to recoup some or all of the back-due rent. Company policy prohibits Defendant's employees, as well as their friends or family, from bidding on auctioned units or giving bidders any information about estimated unit values or prior bids to impact the bidding process. Plaintiff was aware of this policy.

Prior to her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff occasionally bid on foreclosed units that came up for auction. The University location site manager was familiar with Plaintiff because of this and recommended her for employment as a relief manager based on that relationship.

In May 2012, the site manager began to suspect Plaintiff was engaging in improper conduct related to auction bids. The site manager thereafter informed Mr. Hagerman that the address Plaintiff listed as her own home address on her rental application for a storage unit was the same home address that a bidder used on an auction application. That bidder had been successful in a December 2010 bid by bidding only $10 over a second highest secret bid. This was unusual because it was the only bid the bidder placed on any unit and the bid was made only two days before bidding ceased. The site manager also reported suspicious gate pass code activity which she associated with the bidder and Plaintiff in 2011. The site manager also recalled previously seeing Plaintiff transferring items to her own unit that the site manager suspected to be auction items from auctioned units purchased by the bidder.

On May 11, 2012, the site manager reported her suspicions to Mr. Hagerman. Hagerman did additional investigation and confirmed that the bidder and Plaintiff had used the same address. He deemed the incidents sufficiently suspicious to call a meeting with Plaintiff. That meeting occurred on May 23, 2012.

At the meeting, Plaintiff denied that she had a "personal relationship" with the bidder. Plaintiff explained at her deposition that she believed "personal relationship" meant "like husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend." At that meeting, Plaintiff told Hagerman that she had been sexually harassed by the site manager's husband and intended to file a police report. Defendant contends this is the first time Plaintiff reported the harassment to Hagerman. Hagerman told Plaintiff, "He's not our employee, so figure it out."

After the meeting, Hagerman reviewed Plaintiff's file and found that on her employment application listed the bidder as her first personal reference. Hagerman suspected Plaintiff had lied to him about not knowing (or not having a "personal relationship" with) the bidder and decided Plaintiff's employment should be terminated. Hagerman met with Defendant's President, who ...


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