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McKinley v. Salvation Army

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

June 14, 2016



          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge Lisa Ann McKinley filed this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") against her former employer, The Salvation Army. McKinley alleges that she was sexually harassed by Michael Moffitt, an individual she refers to as her supervisor, and that she was constructively discharged by The Salvation Army. She asserts a sexually hostile work environment claim, as well as claims of gender discrimination and retaliation. The case is presently before the court on The Salvation Army's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         Factual Background

         The following facts are either undisputed or presented in the light most favorable to McKinley. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.. 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (emphasizing that "[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor, " when ruling on a motion for summary judgment).

         The Salvation Army is a Christian charitable organization structured in a quasi-military fashion. The organization is headed by a General and divided into geographical territories. The Roanoke Corps of The Salvation Army ("Roanoke Corps") is part of the United States Southern Territory. The Roanoke Corps operates an administrative office located at 724 Dale Avenue in Roanoke; the Red Shield Lodge, a homeless shelter for men located at 821 Salem Avenue; Turning Point, a domestic violence shelter for women located at 815 Salem Avenue; and a Salvation Army thrift store. At all times relevant to the instant action, the operations of the Roanoke Corps were overseen by two Corps Officers, Captains Kenneth and Amy Argot.

         In March of 2013, McKinley interviewed for an open case worker position with the Roanoke Corps, which was funded through a grant that The Salvation Army received from the City of Roanoke. The position was created to assist the shelters' residents in obtaining housing. McKinley learned about the position through her friend and former colleague, Evelyn Jordan, who worked as the Director of Turning Point.

         McKinley attended two interviews for the case worker position. The second interview was conducted by Jordan, Kenneth Argot, and Michael Moffitt, the Director of the Red Shield Lodge. McKinley claims that Moffitt's sexual harassment of her began during the interview, when he commented on her attractiveness multiple times and told her that she was wearing a - beautiful outfit. Moffitt referred to McKinley's good looks as "the elephant in the room, " and questioned how she would handle men who may "come on" to her. Jordan Dep. 55-56.

         Ultimately, McKinley was offered and accepted the position for which she interviewed. She was employed by The Salvation Army for approximately eight months. Her first day of work was March 25, 2013. In August of 2013, McKinley took a leave of absence to assist her daughter after the birth of a child. She returned in September and worked until November 11, 2013, when she resigned.

         After McKinley was hired by The Salvation Army, she initially worked from the administrative office on Dale Avenue. She then moved to the Red Shield Lodge, where she shared an office space with Moffitt and Susan Latta, the case manager at the men's shelter. While based at that location, McKinley generally worked from 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 or 4:30 p.m., depending on when she took a lunch break.

         In her position with The Salvation Army, McKinley was assigned homeless clients at both shelters, but most of her time was spent at the Red Shield Lodge. In the beginning, she was primarily responsible for helping her clients find stabilized housing through funds provided by the Community Housing Resource Center ("CHRC"), a local housing organization. At some point thereafter, the relationship between The Salvation Army and the CHRC soured and McKinley's duties changed. She took on more of a case management role in which she assisted Latta with the case load of clients at the men's shelter.

         According to McKinley's evidence, Moffitt was her direct supervisor at the Red Shield Lodge and Jordan was her direct supervisor at Turning Point. See McKinley Dep. 80; Jordan Dep. 61-62. Because McKinley spent most of her time working with clients at the Red Shield Lodge, Moffitt was her "primary supervisor." Jordan Dep. 62.

         McKinley claims that she was sexually harassed by Moffitt throughout her period of employment with The Salvation Army. While they worked together at the Red Shield Lodge, Moffitt regularly commented on McKinley's attractiveness, her attire, and her perfume choices. For instance, Moffitt would tell McKinley that she was "very attractive, " that she "look[ed] great" in what she was wearing, and that he loved her perfume. McKinley Dep. 202, 270 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also id. at 274 ("Some of the comments were, you know, 'Great skirt. Oh, you know, we're not used to seeing any ... legs around here.'"). Such comments were made on a "daily" basis. McKinley Decl.¶14. Although McKinley "specifically asked Moffitt on dozens of occasions to 'stop' his comments because they made [her] feel uncomfortable, " Moffitt "refused." Id. His conduct "upset McKinley to the point of tears, " and she would go to Jordan's office at the women's shelter to "seek support." Jordan Decl.¶10.

         McKinley's evidence indicates that the conduct at issue was not limited to remarks regarding her attractiveness and attire. On one occasion, while McKinley and Moffitt were riding in a vehicle, Moffitt allegedly told McKinley that he had been involved in adulterous relationships in the past and propositioned her to begin a similar relationship with him. Moffitt indicated that he had "never started any kind of relationship based upon a friendship, and he proceeded to tell [McKinley] that he would like that to be [her]." McKinley Dep. 277. On another occasion, Moffitt advised McKinley that he had arranged for his wife to assist at the Red Shield Lodge because he was "worried about [his] intentions towards [McKinley]." Id. at 171.

         McKinley's evidence also indicates that Moffitt referred to her as a "Jezebel, " both directly and in conversations with other employees. For instance, David Winley, one of McKinley's former co-workers, testified that Moffitt told him that McKinley "was a Jezebel and that [Winley] was under her spell." Winley Dep. 71. Winley interpreted Moffitt's comments to mean that McKinley was "a woman with loose morals, a whore practically." Id. at 78. After hearing Moffitt call McKinley a "Jezebel, " other employees and clients began to refer to her in the same manner.

         On the morning of Monday, November 11, 2013, Moffitt approached McKinley in the parking lot of the Red Shield Lodge. He called McKinley a "Jezebel" and advised her that he was "going to have to fire [her]." McKinley Dep. 157. When McKinley asked Moffitt why he was calling her a "Jezebel, " Moffitt "explained [that] a Jezebel creates havoc, and ... is ~ a whore-type person that puts . .. spells on people." Id. at 158 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         McKinley went to the administrative office and reported Moffitt's comments to Karin Vaughn, the Director of Human Resources for the Roanoke Corps. After speaking with Vaughn, McKinley met with Kenneth and Amy Argot. McKinley advised the Argots that she intended to resign. According to a written statement prepared by McKinley, Kenneth Argot refused to accept her resignation and advised her that she would be placed on paid administrative leave while her complaints were investigated. At the conclusion of her meeting with the Argots, Amy Argot recommended that McKinley "[p]ick [her]self up by the bootstraps, and go on." McKinley Dep. 248.

         McKinley was placed on paid administrative leave from Monday, November 11, 2013 to Friday, November 15, 2013. On November 15, 2013, The Salvation Army issued disciplinary notices to Moffitt, Susan Latta, and another employee, Kevin Cashion, for their inappropriate conduct toward McKinley. The notice issued to Moffitt indicated that he had admitted to engaging in conduct that violated The Salvation Army's non-discrimination policies, which included treating Lisa McKinley differently due to her appearance. The notice set forth the following corrective action plan:

Lisa McKinley is to be reassigned to the Corps under the supervision of the Corps Officer. Mike [Moffitt] is to apologize to Lisa for statements that violate the spirit of the non-discriminatory policies of the Army. Mike is to engage in training after Christmas in regard to proper boundaries and harassment in the workplace. He is to make this training mandatory for all his staff to be completed by 6/1/14. Mike will not discuss staff or client[] issues outside of the workplace or Corps Officer. Mike will not discuss staff issues with other staff.

Def.'s Ex. O.

         That same day, Kenneth Argot sent McKinley a letter outlining his findings and The Salvation Army's proposed ...

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