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Reed v. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 16, 2014

KRISTIE ST. CLAIR REED, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS / COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Glen E. Conrad, Chief United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Kristie St. Clair Reed, a former senior correctional officer at Bland Correctional Center (“BCC”) in Bland, Virginia, filed this lawsuit against Defendant Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”), alleging that she was sexually harassed at BCC and then terminated for reporting this harassment. The case is presently before the court on VDOC’s motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

Factual and Procedural History

The following facts from the summary judgment record are either undisputed, or, where disputed, are presented in the light most favorable to Reed. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (stating that all evidence must be construed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment).

Reed began working for VDOC in 2007. In October 2009, Reed was transferred to BCC, where she was employed until her termination on May 18, 2012. Reed claims that Sergeant J.W. Mitchell began sexually harassing her in February 2010, when he was first assigned to her shift at BCC. Mitchell repeatedly asked Reed out on dates, followed her around the yard, and slammed doors and yelled at her when she refused his advances or spoke to other male officers. Mitchell also “told [Reed] that [she] needed to watch [herself] and if [she] didn’t do what he wanted that he would fix [her] performance review and give [her] a bad review.” Reed Dep. 101:20-24; 102:1, Pl.’s Br. in Opp. Ex. 9, ECF 21-9. Reed reported Mitchell’s behavior up her “chain of command” to Sergeant John Nunley. Reed Dep. 104:15-17. Shortly thereafter, Mitchell was transferred to a different shift and had no further contact with Reed. Reed did not file a formal sexual harassment complaint or otherwise notify BCC administration of her concerns at this time.

In February 2012, Mitchell was again assigned to the same shift as Reed. At that time, Reed’s duties included supervising the top floor of BCC Building #1 (“One-Top”), which required “constant surveillance, security and control of all activities and persons within the dormitory and living areas.” BCC Security Post Order, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A, ECF 16-3. While on duty, correctional officers could only leave their posts with permission from a supervising officer and could only use the office telephone and radio for official business. Id.

On April 7, 2012, Reed found herself ill while working on One-Top. She called Correctional Officer Charles Taylor on the One-Top office phone to seek his advice regarding how to handle her illness, placing the telephone off the hook when she went to a nearby bathroom to vomit. Captain Larry Shelton saw Reed talking on the telephone during his rounds that evening. At that time, Reed asked Shelton if she could leave early. Shelton asked her to wait until the shift’s midnight break, and Reed agreed. Later, Shelton took Reed aside to discuss her “alertness on post.” Mitchell, who was supervising One-Top that evening, was also present in this meeting as a “witness.” Shelton Dep. 33:17-19, Pl.’s Br. in Opp. Ex. 10, ECF 21-10. After this meeting, Reed ultimately worked her entire shift.

Shelton later reviewed BCC phone records, which showed three calls placed during Reed’s shift, ranging in length from 2 minutes to 27.8 minutes. Shelton also reviewed BCC cameras, which showed Reed sitting in the One-Top office chair from 6:22 p.m. until 7:02 p.m., instead of patrolling the One-Top dormitories as her job duties required. As a result, Shelton formally reported Reed for “not…performing her job function as a corrections officer.” Shelton Dep. 28:1-3. In his disciplinary report, Shelton noted that Reed “sounded as though [she] was throwing up sick” when he first confronted her for being off-post, and that “Officer Parris said that he felt sorry for Officer Reed because she was sick.” Incident Report, Pl.’s Br. in Opp. Ex. C, ECF 21-3. However, Shelton also noted that Mitchell had told him that “Officer Reed and Officer CL Taylor [were] having a relationship and that [Mitchell] bets that she was on the phone with Officer Taylor.” Id.

The next day, April 8, 2012, Reed met with then-Lieutenant Dallas Bradshaw regarding this incident. Reed expressed concern about being disciplined, stating that she felt Shelton was “picking on her” because “Mitchell was mad at her.” Bradshaw Dep. 7:8-15, Pl.’s Br. in Opp. Ex. 4, ECF 21-4. Reed also told Bradshaw about the 2010 harassment at this time. Bradshaw spoke to Mitchell about Reed’s allegations, which he denied. Bradshaw then summoned Reed to speak directly with Mitchell regarding her allegations, which resulted in a shouting match between Mitchell and Reed. Bradshaw eventually sent Mitchell and Reed home “and told them not to come back to work until they had heard from [human resources].” Id. at 9:6-8. Bradshaw testified that meeting with Mitchell and Reed together that day violated VDOC policies regarding sexual harassment. Id. at 8:10-13.

The following day, April 9, 2012, Reed filed an Internal Incident Report regarding Mitchell. In that report, Reed stated that in 2010, Mitchell was “overly friendly” and told her to “keep in mind” that he completed her reviews. See Internal Incident Report, Def. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. E, ECF 16-3. Reed stated that she reported Mitchell’s behavior to Nunley, and that after she did so, “it was over and done with [and] Mitchell apologized.” Id. She then stated that in 2012, “things started out fine, then [Mitchell] started being overly friendly [and] rubbed my leg in the seating area in…the warden’s office” on April 7, 2012. Id. She also stated that Mitchell questioned Reed about her personal relationship with Officer Taylor that day.

After Reed filed this report, BCC Warden Larry Jarvis immediately moved Mitchell to a different shift and placed both Mitchell and Reed on administrative leave pending investigation of Reed’s allegations. Robin Snavely, BCC’s Employment Relations Manager, conducted an investigation pursuant to VDOC’s written sexual harassment policy. See Snavely Decl. ¶ 2, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2, ECF 16-2. During this investigation, Snavely interviewed Reed and Mitchell, as well as Officer Taylor, Officer Clemons, Officer Puckett, Sergeant Nunley, and Lieutenant Bradshaw. None of the persons interviewed by Snavely confirmed Reed’s allegations. As a result, Snavely submitted a report to Warden Jarvis concluding that “[t]he allegations of sexual harassment and workplace harassment cannot be substantiated” on April 13, 2012. Administrative Investigation Report, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. I, ECF 16-4. Jarvis wrote to Reed on April 20, 2012 and Mitchell on April 23, 2012, advising them of the results of this investigation. See Jarvis Letters, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. J and K, ECF 16-4.

On May 18, 2012, Jarvis issued a Written Notice terminating Reed’s employment as a result of her off-post behavior on April 7. The notice reflected that Reed had two other active disciplinary infractions on her record at the time of her termination. See Written Notice of Termination, Def. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. L, ECF 16-5. Reed filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 13, 2010. She received a Dismissal and Notice of Rights from the EEOC on August 19, 2013.

Reed commenced this action on November 15, 2013. In her complaint, Reed alleges that her sexual harassment and subsequent termination violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Specifically, Reed asserts claims for a hostile work environment, quid pro quo discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliatory discharge. On August 11, 2014, VDOC filed a motion for ...


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