United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
GLEN E. CONRAD, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Owen filed this action against the County of Franklin,
Virginia (the "County") and Robert Andrew Morris.
Owen asserts claims of hostile work environment and
retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
("Title VII") against the County, and related
claims of assault and battery against Morris. The County has
moved for summary judgment on the retaliation claim. The
court held a hearing on the motion via teleconference on
February 7, 2019. The motion has been fully briefed and is
ripe for review. For the following reasons, the motion will
following facts are either undisputed or presented in the
light most favorable to Owen. 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).
December of 2013, the County hired Owen to work as a building
inspector. Owen Dep. 11, Dkt. No. 109-1. Morris became the
County Building Official and Owen's head supervisor in
November of 2014. Morris Dep. 27, 47-48, Dkt. No. 109-15.
Morris remained in that position for the duration of
months of becoming Owen's supervisor, Morris began to
sexually harass her. Id. 101. The harassment began
with comments regarding the plaintiffs attractiveness, which
Morris made in person and in text messages. Id.
47-48. When the comments were made at work, Owen would point
to a photograph of Morris' wife and ask him to
"stop." Id. 48. Rather than doing so,
Morris engaged in increasingly inappropriate conversations
with Owen. For instance, Morris asked Owen how she had lost
her virginity. Id. 106. When Owen refused to answer
his question, Morris proceeded to describe his first sexual
experience in detail. Id. 106. Morris also made
sexual advances via text message, asked Owen to send him
inappropriate photographs of herself, offered to perform oral
sex on Owen, and told Owen they were going to "do
it" and "she was going to like it."
Id. 123, 125, 127-28, 154-55. Owen reminded Morris
that he was married with four children and asked him to
"stop." Id. 126. Rather than doing so,
Morris requested that Owen perform oral sex on him for his
birthday. Id. 127.
summer of 2015, Morris began to engage in inappropriate
physical contact. Id. 35. Morris touched Owen's
breasts on several occasions. Id. 146; see also
id. ("[H]e would come up behind me and grope me and
grab me."). He also "forced [Owen] to kiss him many
times," "tried to force her to feel his
penis," and "placed his hand on [her] genital
area" while she was driving. Id. 146-47,
Turner, another County employee in Owen's chain of
command, also made comments of a sexual nature to the
plaintiff. Turner showed Owen photographs of women and ask
her if she thought the women's breasts were real or fake.
Id. 39. Turner also engaged in "drunk
texting," during which he sent Owen inappropriate
messages. Id. 42.
complained to Morris about Turner's behavior, but
"nothing changed." Id. 40. Instead, as the
year progressed, Owen's work environment worsened, and
she began to fear that Morris would hurt her or terminate her
employment. Id. 71. Morris advised Owen that she
would be immediately fired if he ever saw her enter the area
of the building where the County's human resources
("HR") department was located. Id. 71-72.
November of 2015, Owen made it clear that she was not going
to tolerate Morris' behavior any longer. While Owen was
sitting at her desk, Morris approached her from behind,
placed his hands down her shirt and under her bra, and
squeezed her breasts. Id. 147. In response, Owen
slapped her fist on the desk and said, "That's it
... . You're going to stop touching me now. No. more.
Leave me alone. Stop." Id.
contends that Morris' demeanor subsequently changed. He
became "cold" and "mean," and imposed
restrictions on the plaintiff. Id. 155. For
instance, Morris told Owen that she was no longer allowed to
bring food from home or exercise during her lunch break, and
that she would be required to go out to eat with "the
guys." Id. 157. Morris also made Owen return
her work vehicle. Id. 158.
February 5, 2016, Morris and Turner met with Owen in a
conference room. Id. 61. During the meeting, Morris
presented the plaintiff with a bulleted list of alleged
reasons to terminate her employment. Id. He advised
Owen that should could either quit her job or be fired.
meeting with Owen, Morris asked Patricia Barnes, an HR
official, to prepare a "Notice of Intent to
Terminate" letter. Barnes Dep. 42, Dkt. No. 109-2. The
letter advised Owen that she would have three days to respond
to the proposed course of action before Morris made a final
decision. Notice of Intent to Terminate, Dkt. No. 109-7.
met with Barnes after work that same day in Barnes'
office. Owen Dep. 65. During the meeting, Owen told Barnes
that Morris had made sexual advances toward her and that she
had rejected his advances. Id. 65-66. Owen also
indicated that the asserted reasons for her proposed
termination were "fabrications" and that Morris was
retaliating against her for "standing up ...