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Paige v. Atrion Communication Resources Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 5, 2019

VERONICA PAIGE, Plaintiff,
v.
ATRION COMMUNICATION RESOURCES, INC., et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) based on this Court's diversity jurisdiction. This case arises from workplace sexual harassment claims that a woman has alleged against her former employer. Because there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding the severity and pervasiveness of her employer's conduct, as well as whether the plaintiff, herself, engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct, Defendants' summary judgment motion is denied.

         I

         Defendant Atrion Communication Resources, Inc. ("Atrion") is an IT consulting company. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 11). Plaintiff, Veronica Paige ("Paige"), began working for Atrion in February 2007 and resigned from her position in December 2016. (Id. at ¶ 4; Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("SOMF") ¶ 33, ECF No. 20-1). Paige primarily worked as a receptionist, but also performed marketing and various administrative tasks at Atrion.

         While Paige was employed with Atrion, Defendant Pasquale "Pat" Grillo ("Grillo") was the CEO, President, and Founder of Atrion, and served as Paige's general supervisor. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5; Defs.' SOMF ¶ 2). Throughout her employment at Atrion, Paige alleges that Grillo subjected her to "explicit and overwhelming" sexual harassment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5).

         Below is a list of the specific incidents of sexual harassment Paige alleges that Grillo engaged in during her employment, which were addressed directly at Paige or in her presence.

• In 2007, a few months after Paige began employment, Paige was called into Grillo's office because he wanted to show her something on his computer. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6). When Paige looked at the computer screen, she saw a pornographic video of a woman performing oral sex on a man. (Id. at ¶ 7). Paige expressed that she did not want to see the video and walked out of Grillo's office. (Id. at ¶ 8).
• When Paige began working at Atrion, she drove a Hummer SUV. (Id. at ¶ 8). Grillo made daily sexual remarks about Paige's vehicle, such as, "I could go for a Hummer, do you want to give me one?" (Id. at ¶ 10). A "hummer" is a colloquial term for fellatio. (Id. at ¶ ID-
• During the summer months, when Paige wore skirts to work, Grillo would make unwelcome sexually suggestive comments to her, such as that he wished he was sitting under Paige's desk. (Id. at ¶ 12).
• While Paige and Grillo were at lunch one day, Grillo informed Paige that the only reason he hired her was because she had large breasts and that other women applicants who had applied for Paige's position did not. (Id. at ¶ 13).
• In or about September 2014, while Grillo's wife was out of town, Paige was talking with Jennifer Farlow ("Ms. Farlow"), Atrion's Human Resources Manager, when Grillo approached them and said, "Well, since Roz [Grillo's wife] is away, I think we should have a threesome. Let's close the door; I would love to see you two go at it." (Id. at ¶ 14).
• In or about March 2015, Grillo's accountant's wife came in the office and commented on Grillo's weight, to which he replied, "I lost some [weight] but I'm trying to get [Plaintiff] to have sex with me for more exercise." (Id. at ¶ 17).
• In or about February 2015, Grillo's granddaughters visited Atrion's office, and after he asked his granddaughters for a kiss and hug, he turned to Plaintiff and said, "Oh, is that ok or will I get sued for that?" (Id. at ¶ 19).
• In or about June 2015, on Plaintiff's birthday, Grillo stated, "Oh, happy birthday. I'll take one for the team and have birthday sex with you." (Id. at ¶ 20).
• In or about July 2015, Plaintiff had bananas sitting on her desk and offered one to Grillo; Grillo responded, "No, but I have a banana for you and it's cream filled," suggesting a sexual innuendo regarding ejaculation. (Id. at ¶ 21).
• On or about November 23, 2015, Grillo walked through one of the office doors, held a banana up, and said, "Ohh, I want to shoot you with my banana," which Plaintiff claims also suggested a sexual innuendo regarding ejaculation. (Id. at ¶ 24).
• On or about December 14, 2015, there was a company manager's meeting. (Id. at ¶ 25). Grillo and an Atrion co-worker were standing at Paige's desk when Grillo stated, "I don't enjoy coming to work anymore. You can't even joke around without getting sued. It's not fun coming here anymore." (Id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff responded and said, "Join the crowd. I'm always cranky." (Id. at ¶ 27). Grillo then responded, "Well, I can uncrank you!" which was an innuendo suggesting that he would have sex with her. (Id. at ¶ 28).
• On or about December 17, 2015, Paige was speaking with a co-worker when Grillo stated, "Well, I think we should go have some drinks and then have some sex, what do you think?" (Mat ¶ 29).
• On or about March 20, 2016, Paige went into Grillo's office to use his computer and while Paige was typing, Grillo expressed that he was tired. (Id. at ¶ 30). Paige replied that she read about companies that put cots under employees' desks for employees to take naps. (Id.). Grillo stated, in response, "I wish there was a girl under my desk right now, and I don't even care if she spits. I'll just have the carpets cleaned." (Id.). Grillo was allegedly referring to a woman spitting out semen while performing fellatio. (Id.).
• On one occasion (it is unclear precisely when), Grillo rubbed Paige's shoulders in an inappropriate fashion. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts ("SOMF") ¶ 23, ECF No. 11). Grillo's wife, Rosalind Grillo ("Roz Grillo"), apparently saw this and hit Grillo in the head in a non-violent, playful manner to reprimand him. (Id.).

         In sum, Paige claims that Pat Grillo's frequent sexual harassment created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 32).

         Paige alleges that on one occasion, she reported to her direct supervisor Grillo's sexually inappropriate remarks and conduct, but that her supervisor took no action and instead proceeded to tell her about Grillo's alleged history of sexually harassing women in the workplace. (Pl.'s SOMF ¶ 19). On another occasion, Paige claims that she reported the "cream-filled banana" comment to another supervisor, but her supervisor informed her that there was nothing that could be done because Grillo was the owner of the company, but that if it were the supervisor's decision, he would have fired Grillo by now. (Id. at ¶ 34). Therefore, based on her supervisors' comments, Paige claims that she had no reasonable expectation that a complaint to Human Resources would result in any action to stop Grillo's sexual harassment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6).

         Grillo has denied that he made the vast majority of the sexually-laced comments Paige has alleged and that engaged in such conduct, and explains that in the few instances in which he did make such comments, they were made in jest and were not intended to denote anything sexual. (See generally Certification of Sebastian Ionno ("Ionno Cert."), Pl.'s Ex. 6, ...


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