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Bell v. RC Management, LLC

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 27, 2018

CORINA BELL, Plaintiff


          Lance E. Walker, Justice.

         Before the Court is Defendant RC Management, LLC's motion for summary judgment. A hearing was held on this motion on February 8, 2018. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         The following facts are not in dispute. In March 2014, Plaintiff worked four or five shifts as a trainee at the Yarmouth, Maine McDonald's, which was owned and operated by Defendant. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶¶ 4-6.) During her brief tenure, Plaintiff alleges she experienced three incidents involving sexual harassment. (Id. ¶ 7.) The first incident occurred on March 22, 2014 when her coworkers discussed a couple "having sex" at prom. (Id. ¶ 9.) This discussion was brief and involved no profane or slang words. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) The second incident occurred on March 29, 2014 when a coworker discussed a woman breastfeeding in the restaurant and rubbed his chest in a sexual manner. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) A supervisor told the coworker to "shut up," and the coworker immediately stopped the behavior. (Id. ¶ 17.) The third incident occurred on March 30, 2014 when a coworker was discussing "how to make babies" and used the word "sperm" during a conversation about evolution and the passing of genetic material. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21 & n.2.) Following this incident, a coworker asked Plaintiff if she was okay, and she responded "yes." (Id. ¶ 23.)

         Plaintiff complained to management about the three incidents. (Pl.'s S.M.F. ¶ 2.) After meeting with Plaintiff, a manager spoke to and issued a written warning to one of the coworkers about whom Plaintiff had complained, and the coworker apologized. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶¶ 28-30.) Plaintiff did not return to work in April 2014. (See id. ¶ 31; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s S.M.F. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff did not remain at McDonald's long enough to receive an expected apology from another coworker who was involved. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff claims these incidents were traumatic and that she was offended by them because the only time she ever recalls hearing about sex in high school was from an education teacher. (Id. ¶¶ 35-38.)

         Plaintiff saw a counselor while she was a high school student, and she reported to medical professionals that she experienced symptoms of depression as a teenager. (Pl.'s S.M.F. ¶¶ 10-11.) Plaintiff claims the incidents at McDonald's caused her to experience a psychological breakdown that included symptoms such as hallucinations, hearing voices that are not there, believing she or someone else could teleport, and believing other people are demons or warlocks. (See id. ¶ 18; Def.'s S.M.F. ¶¶ 40-47.) Although Plaintiff claims entitlement to past and ongoing damages for psychiatric, emotional, and financial damage, including costs of psychiatric treatment, she has not designated any expert witnesses. (Def.'s S.M.F. ¶¶ 40, 50.) Defendant's medical expert, Dr. Carlyle B. Voss, has opined that Plaintiffs experience at McDonald's could not be connected to her psychotic break to a reasonable medical certainty. (See id. ¶¶ 51-54.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if, based on the parties' statements of material fact and the cited record, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M.R. Civ. P. 56(c); Dyer v. Dep't of Transp., 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821. "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case. A genuine issue of material fact exists when the factfinder must choose between competing versions of the truth." Dyer, 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         If the moving party's motion for summary judgment is properly supported, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to respond with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial in order to avoid summary judgment. M.R. Civ. P. 56(e). When a defendant moves for summary judgment, the plaintiff must respond with evidence establishing a prima facie case. Watt v. UniFirst Corp., 2009 ME 47, ¶ 21, 969 A.2d 897. The evidence proffered by the plaintiff "need not be persuasive at that stage, but the evidence must be sufficient to allow a factfinder to make a factual determination without speculating." Estate of Smith v. Cumberland Cnty., 2013 ME 13, ¶ 19, 60 A. 3d 759. If a plaintiff fails to present sufficient evidence, then the defendant is entitled to a summary judgment. Watt, 2009 ME 47, ¶ 21, 969 A.2d 897.

         III. Discussion

         A. Liability for sexual harassment

         To support a claim for sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment, a plaintiff must prove the following elements:

(1) that he (or she) is a member of a protected class; (2) that she was subject to unwelcome sexual harassment; (3) that the harassment was based upon sex; (4) that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of plaintiffs employment and create an abusive work environment; (5) that sexually objectionable conduct was both objectively and subjectively offensive, such that a reasonable person would find it hostile or abusive and the victim in fact did perceive it to be so; and (6) that some basis for employer liability has been established.

Watt, 2009 ME 47, ¶ 21, 969 A.2d 897. Defendant primarily argues Plaintiff has not proffered evidence to ...

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