Text Message-Based Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim Dismissed

In Louis v. Window Rock Unified School District, No. CV-20-08193-PCT-DJH, 2022 WL 2132239 (D.Ariz. June 14, 2022), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Plaintiff’s claims arose from text messages exchanged between her and a non-party (the School Board President for the District at which plaintiff worked as a bookkeeper), with whom she had previously had a consensual relationship.

From the decision:

Considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that two inappropriate incidents of texts from Mr. Tomlinson, during a series of messages about him and Plaintiff’s relationship, would not have created a work environment that a reasonable person would find objectively hostile. Here, Plaintiff received texts on two occasions, outside of working hours, where Mr. Tomlinson expressed continued affection for Plaintiff. The rash of texts may have been unwelcomed. But the comments are not analogous to the supervisor in Hacienda Hotel, who “threatened … to fire her if she did not submit to his sexual advances” while another supervisor laughed and herself made similar comments. Indeed, these messages were sent late in the evening and did not reference work or suggest retaliatory conduct if Plaintiff did not return Mr. Tomlinson’s affections. See Stevens v. Saint Elizabeth Med. Ctr., Inc., 533 F. App’x 624, 630 (6th Cir. 2013) (affirming district court’s finding that occasional inappropriate text messages, such as telling plaintiff she was his “soul mate,” coupled with her supervisor’s unwelcome advances at work, were not so severe or pervasive that an objectively hostile environment was created). Absent further evidence, the Court finds no reasonable juror could conclude the text messages were sufficiently severe or pervasive to support a hostile work environment claim. Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment, and thus the Court finds this claim cannot survive summary judgment. [Cleaned up.]

Although the court could have dismissed plaintiff’s claim on this ground alone, it nevertheless also concluded that the alleged conduct could not be imputed to the defendant, since in its view the record showed that the defendant “took immediate and corrective action in response to the complaint” filed (by someone other than plaintiff) regarding the text message.

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