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Huston v. Procter & Gamble Paper Products Corp.

June 8, 2009

PRISCILLA HUSTON, APPELLANT
v.
THE PROCTER & GAMBLE PAPER PRODUCTS CORPORATION



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, District Court No. 05-cv-02389, District Judge: The Honorable James F. McClure.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a) June 30, 2008

Before: RENDELL, SMITH, and FISHER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

This is a Title VII suit for sexual harassment and retaliation. Priscilla Huston appeals from a grant of summary judgment in favor of her former employer, Procter & Gamble Paper Products Corporation (P&G). Huston's appeal hinges on whether two P&G employees qualify as "management level" so that their knowledge may be imputed to P&G for purposes of liability under Title VII. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania determined that the two employees were not management level and that P&G took prompt and adequate remedial measures as soon as it had notice of Huston's harassment allegations. We will affirm the District Court's judgment, and in so doing, clarify the definition of "management level." We will also affirm the District Court's judgment that Huston cannot make out a retaliation claim.

I.

The events underlying Huston's lawsuit allegedly occurred in the spring of 2004, by which time Huston had been employed at P&G's Mehoopany plant for more than a decade. Huston worked as a technician on the teams that operated large paper manufacturing machines. The teams worked shifts monitoring the machines and their gauges and instruments to make sure that they ran smoothly and safely to manufacture paper products.

The first incident Huston relies on to support her Title VII claim allegedly occurred on May 13, 2004. Although she did not witness this incident, Huston alleges that she heard that one of her male teammates had exposed himself in the plant control room in the presence of three other male teammates.*fn1 According to Huston, someone informed supervising technicians Pete Romanchick and Jack Traver of this incident the next day. Huston indicates that a similar incident occurred on May 22, 2004. Once again, she was not a witness and contends only that she heard that another male teammate had similarly exposed himself in front of four male teammates.

Huston also alleges that, on June 7, 2004, she was in the control room with her teammates when one of them exposed himself while explaining that he had shaved his testicles. She further alleges that the same man exposed himself again the next day in front of her and three male P&G employees.

Huston reported these incidents to senior-level manager Regina Gray and human resources manager Linda Sheehan on June 30, 2004. At the same time, she complained that her male teammates looked at pornography using the control room computer and that they kept pornographic magazines on the work site as well. P&G launched an investigation into Huston's allegations on the same day-June 30, 2004. Francisco Lanza, the manager of Huston's team, assisted Gray and Sheehan with the investigation. They interviewed various individuals named by Huston in her allegations. Each interviewed employee denied either exposing himself or witnessing another teammate expose himself. One teammate did admit making sexually explicit comments to two female temporary employees in the control room, and another teammate admitted sending male co-workers an e-mail containing images of topless women.

At the conclusion of its investigation, in July 2004, P&G sanctioned everyone on Huston's team-including Huston-within the framework of its five-step disciplinary program. Under this program, an employee in breach of P&G policies is disciplined by being placed on a step with attendant sanctions and notice. An employee who is already on one of the steps can be advanced to a higher step if P&G decides that a more stringent warning is called for. The fifth step in the program is termination.

Each of Huston's teammates was placed on, or advanced, a disciplinary step for various transgressions discovered through the investigation into Huston's allegations. Huston herself was disciplined along with her teammates because P&G determined that the entire team used vulgar language at work-a practice P&G sought to eliminate. Huston was already on step four due to prior transgressions, including a "life-threatening" safety violation from 2003. She was not advanced to step five, however; instead, her file was simply annotated to record that she was asked to be mindful of her language at work.

In the fall of 2004, P&G identified a costly problem with production quality at the Mehoopany plant. Management traced this problem to a lack of care on the part of technicians monitoring and maintaining the machines. As a result, the plant's management convened a meeting for all technicians working on the machines. The purpose of the meeting was to reiterate that the technicians were to be diligent and thorough in monitoring gauges and recording machine data to ensure that the manufacturing processes ran properly. To drive the point home, ...


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