United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
DAVID J. YEAGER, Plaintiff,
COVENANT SECURITY SERVICES, LTD., Defendant.
F. McComb, Esq. Zachary Adam Silverstein, Esq. Zarwin Baum
DeVito Kaplan Schaer & Toddy PC Attorneys for Plaintiff
David J. Yeager.
William M. Tambussi, Esq. Michael J. Watson, Esq. Brown &
Connery, LLP Attorneys for Defendant Covenant Security
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court upon the Motion for Summary
Judgment [Docket No. 24] by Defendant Covenant Security
Services, Ltd. (“Covenant” or the
“Defendant”), seeking the dismissal of the
above-captioned matter by Plaintiff David J. Yeager
(“Yeager” or the “Plaintiff”) in its
entirety. Having considered the parties' submissions and
for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment is granted, in part, and denied, in part.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
dispute stems from Defendant's decision to terminate
Plaintiff's employment on October 31, 2014. Plaintiff
alleges that he was terminated unlawfully and in retaliation
for his support of a former co-worker's unlawful
termination lawsuit against Covenant.
provides security and protection services to clients at
facilities across the country. Def. SOMF ¶ 1. Plaintiff
was hired by Covenant as a security officer in the summer of
2011. Id. ¶ 10. On August 1, 2011, Plaintiff
signed a Handbook Acknowledgement Form, acknowledging that he
had received Covenant's Employee Handbook and that he
would become familiar with the policies set forth in the
Handbook. Def. Ex. 4 [Docket No. 24-4]. On October 15, 2011,
Plaintiff was promoted to the position of site manager. Def.
Ex. 6 [Docket No. 24-5]. On November 22, 2011, Plaintiff
underwent supervisory training, which included training
regarding Covenant's sexual harassment policies and
procedures. Def. SOMF ¶ 12.
Employee Handbook expressly prohibits harassment of any kind,
including sexual harassment. Id. ¶ 16.
Specifically, the Employee Handbook provides that
“[a]ny employee who believes that he or she has been a
victim of some form of sexual or other harassment, or other
inappropriate conduct or behavior, should report the incident
immediately to his or her supervisor, the Human
Resources Manager or any member of senior management with
whom the individual feels comfortable.” Def. Ex. 2 at
DEF 37 [Docket No. 24-3] (emphasis in original). It further
states: “If reported to a supervisor, the supervisor
fills out a ‘Preliminary Complaint Form', having
the employee briefly describe what incident has occurred.
The supervisor does not investigate the complaint -
it must be immediately forwarded to the Human Resources
Manager.” Id. (emphasis in original).
Additionally, the Handbook states that “[r]eports of
harassment must be reported in a timely manner to ensure a
quick and effective investigation of the incident. It will be
extremely difficult to investigate harassment claims made
long after the alleged incident occurred.” Id.
at DEF 38.
also promulgates a “Harassment Free Workplace”
Policy, which applies to all Covenant employees. Def. Ex. 11
at DEF 65 [Docket No. 24-6]. The Policy provides, in relevant
All supervisors and other members of management are held
accountable for the effective administration of this Policy.
. . . If a supervisor or other member of management is
advised of any alleged violation of this Policy, . . . he/she
must immediately report the matter to the Human Resources
Department or to a senior member of management so that an
appropriate investigation can be initiated. Failure to do so
will result in corrective action up to and including
Id. at DEF 68. The Policy also directs supervisors
to “report harassment claims to the HR Department for
investigation as soon as possible, and in most instances, no
later than 24-hours of the occurrence.” Id. at
DEF 69. Plaintiff was responsible for being generally aware
of Covenant's sexual harassment reporting policies. 2015
Pl. Dep. Tr. 75:2-4, Def. Ex. 14 [Docket No. 24-6]. Likewise,
Plaintiff knew that he was supposed to report complaints of
sexual harassment to Human Resources. Id.
about January 10, 2013, Abigail Geoffney, a Covenant security
officer at the time, reported sexual harassment by her
supervisor, Norman Reed, to Plaintiff. Def. SOMF ¶¶
35-36. Plaintiff documented Geoffney's complaints in a
Preliminary Description of Incident Form, which he emailed to
Covenant's Human Resources Department the same day.
Id. ¶ 37. Upon receipt of the complaint,
Covenant's Human Resources Specialist, Ashley Dennis,
began an investigation into the allegations. Id.
¶ 39. Ultimately, after investigating, Covenant
determined that it was unable to substantiate Geoffney's
allegations. Id. ¶ 46.
the relevant time period, Plaintiff supervised Meegan
Wadleigh, a security officer employed by Wadleigh. Def. Ex.
25 ¶ 8 [Docket No. 24-8]. On May 8, 2013, Wadleigh
reported to Plaintiff that she had been sexually harassed by
another Covenant employee, Scott Tucker. Def. SOMF ¶ 52.
Plaintiff documented and signed Wadleigh's complaint,
which also included a description of the incident by
Wadleigh. Id. ¶ 53. Plaintiff did not
immediately send the May 8, 2013 report to Covenant's
Human Resources Department, and instead noted: “no
witness need proof.” Def. Ex. 27 [Docket No. 24-8];
Def. Ex. 25 ¶ 2; Def. Ex. 28 [Docket No. 24-8]; 2015 Pl.
Dep. Tr. 51:18-25, Def. Ex. 14.
9, 2013, Wadleigh reported a second instance of sexual
harassment by Tucker to Plaintiff. Plaintiff documented the
complaint, which included Wadleigh's description of the
incident, and signed it the same day. Def. SOMF ¶¶
56-57. Plaintiff did not immediately send the May 9, 2013
report to Human Resources. Def. Ex. 25 ¶ 2; Def. Ex. 28;
2015 Pl. Dep. Tr. 79:19-80:9, Def. Ex. 14. Once again, he
wrote “need proof or witness” under “Action
to be taken”. Def. Ex. 31 [Docket No. 24-8].
reported a third incident of sexual harassment by Tucker to
Plaintiff on May 31, 2013. Plaintiff documented
Wadleigh's description of the alleged harassment and
signed the complaint on the same day. Def. SOMF ¶¶
60-61. Under “Action to be taken”, Plaintiff
wrote: “No witness / need someone Goffney [sic]
complaint went nowhere. problem!” Def. Ex. 32 [Docket
No. 24-8]. Plaintiff did not immediately report
Wadleigh's May 31, 2013 complaint to Human Resources.
Def. Ex. 25 ¶ 2; Def. Ex. 28; 2015 Pl. Dep. Tr. 86:2-5,
Def. Ex. 14.
14, 2013, Wadleigh reported a fourth incident of sexual
harassment by Tucker to Plaintiff. Plaintiff, once again,
documented the complaint, including Wadleigh's
description of the incident, and signed the form. Def. SOMF
¶¶ 69-70. Under “Action to be taken”,
Plaintiff wrote: “will set up  camera in command
center. But only have her word against his, problem.”
Def. Ex. 33 [Docket No. 24-8]. Plaintiff did not immediately
report this complaint to Human Resources, as required by
Covenant's reporting policies. Def. Ex. 25 ¶ 2; Def.
Ex. 28; 2016 Pl. Dep. Tr. 136:11-137:5, Def. Ex. 5 [Docket
was the only Covenant employee who witnessed Wadleigh
complete her four sexual harassment complaints. Def. SOMF
¶ 74. Wadleigh did not report Tucker's alleged
sexual harassment to anyone at Covenant, except Plaintiff,
during her employment with Covenant. Id. ¶ 76.
Plaintiff admits that he did not notify anyone at Covenant of
Wadleigh's sexual harassment complaints prior to June 20,
2013. Id. ¶ 83. Plaintiff testified that he did
not immediately report Wadleigh's complaints because, in
his experience, Covenant did not take sexual harassment
complaints seriously unless there was corroborative evidence.
2015 Pl. Dep. Tr. 51:18-25, 88:13-18, Def. Ex. 14.
about June 25, 2013, Ben Goehring, an Operation Specialist at
Covenant, called Plaintiff to inform him that Wadleigh was
required to report to a meeting on June 27, 2013. During the
call, Plaintiff told Goehring that Wadleigh “had
complaints of her own.” Id. ¶ 88.
Specifically, Plaintiff testified that he “told Ben
Goehring that [Wadleigh] had her own complaints, sexual and
otherwise.” 2015 Pl. Dep. Tr. 79:9-14, Def. Ex. 14.
Plaintiff told Wadleigh to bring her written sexual
harassment complaints with her to the meeting and to raise
her complaints there. Id. 78:2-22.
however, did not inform Covenant of her sexual harassment
complaints during the June 27, 2013 meeting. Wadleigh Dep.
Tr. 81:4-82:6, Def. Ex. 24 [Docket No. 24-7]. During the
meeting, Covenant terminated Wadleigh's employment,
purportedly due to poor performance and behavioral issues.
2015 Brown Dep. Tr. 50:4-12, 58:3-10, Def. Ex. 3 [Docket No.
24-4]; Dennis Dep. Tr. 50:12-52:1, 60:14-19, 74:7-13, Ex. 17
[Docket No. 24-7]. Brown, Dennis, Goehring, and Dominic
Ferrara, Covenant's Senior Vice-President of Operations,
each testified that they were not aware of Wadleigh's
sexual harassment complaints at the time of her termination
on June 27, 2013. Def. SOMF ¶¶ 105-08.
same day, Plaintiff witnessed Tucker make a racial slur about
an individual who was driving Wadleigh to her meeting.
Id. ¶ 115. Plaintiff completed a Corrective
Action Form regarding Tucker's conduct, which he
immediately forwarded to Human Resources. Id. ¶
117. Tucker was suspended that day as a result of this
incident. The following day, June 28, 2013, Ferrara
terminated Tucker's employment. Ferrara Dep. Tr.
34:22-36:12, Def. Ex. 37 [Docket No. 24-9].
1, 2013, at 1:07 p.m., Plaintiff sent an email to Dennis,
which read, in relevant part: “I documented that Ms.
Wadleigh had several complaints, sexual and other, she wanted
to report to me however I instructed her to make her
complaints in Philadelphia (HR) during her meeting with you
and Ben, since I was not involved with investigation. See
attached.” Def. Ex. 34 [Docket No. 24-8]. To the email,
he attached a Corrective Action Form, dated June 27, 2013,
which stated: “Ms. Wadleigh asked to report her own
complaints of harassment both sexual and other. She was
instructed by me, [due] to the fact she was meeting with
Covenant SOS Goehring HR Dennis due to pending matter, on
this date at 12pm. I advised I would document her
request.” Id.; see also Def. Ex. 26
[Docket No. 24-8].
same day, at 1:36 p.m., Plaintiff sent another email to
Dennis and Goehring, which read: “And if it was Tucker,
you would probably be quite interested in Ms. Wadleigh's
sexual harassment complaint, but again I will leave that to
you[r] discretion.” Def. Ex. 35 [Docket No. 24-8].
10, 2013, Wadleigh sent a letter to Brown, in which she
claimed that Tucker had sexually harassed her during her
employment with Covenant and that she had “made Dave
Yeager aware of [the] complaints.” Def. Ex. 39 [Docket
No. 24-9]. Brown responded to Wadleigh on July 12, 2013, in
Covenant has a zero tolerance policy for all forms of
harassment, sexual or otherwise. Covenant takes these types
of allegations very seriously . . . . Had you informed the
company of your allegations regarding Mr. Scott Tucker
earlier, there would have been a prompt and thorough
investigation with the necessary action taken, if warranted.
Because you chose not to do so, the company could take no
action. In this instance, Mr. Tucker's employment with
Covenant had ended prior to the receipt of your complaint.
Def. Ex. 40 [Docket No. 24-9]. Covenant, however, did not
institute any investigation into the substance of
Wadleigh's letter upon receiving it. 2016 Brown Dep. Tr.
28:16-29:1, Def. Ex. 10 [Docket No. 24-6]. Brown testified
that Covenant did not believe an investigation was necessary
at the time given that both Wadleigh and ...