South Carolina's Flagship University

4th Circuit Court Briefs

Howard v. England (05-1258)

Stephanie Howard filed a Title VII action alleging she had been the victim of sexual harassment by another employee who also worked at the Naval Air Systems Command ("NAVAIR"), a component of the United States Department of the Navy. Howard's complaint alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that she suffered retaliation for bringing a complaint of sexual harassment. The Secretary of the Navy filed a motion for summary judgment and, following briefing and oral argument, the district court granted the Secretary's motion. Howard appeals from the district court's ruling.

During her tenure at NAVAIR, Howard provided administrative support for approximately 55 employees, including Randy McCall, in the Air Assault and Weapons Division. Howard's duties included acting as a receptionist, maintaining the office's files, arranging for meetings and conferences, and receiving and reviewing correspondence for the office. During a 17-month period, beginning in June 1995, Howard contends that she was subjected to sexual harassment by McCall. Howard alleges that McCall began speaking to her in a sexually provocative manner and touched her inappropriately without her consent. Following an alleged incident on March 5, 1996, Howard spoke with Aaron Pendleton, a manager in the Navy's Human Resource Office, who advised her to write a letter to McCall. Howard followed his advice and wrote a letter to McCall, which she delivered to him the next day. In that letter, she detailed the incidents of sexual harassment, demanded that he stop the behavior, and explained that his actions made her feel "sick and violated."

Approximately six months later, McCall allegedly made inappropriate comments and unwelcome sexual advances to Howard. Howard's supervisor, Mike Erk, met with plaintiff and advised her to contact the EEOC office to report McCall's conduct, which she did. An investigation was subsequently conducted. No charges were brought against McCall, and he was reassigned to another floor. Several months later, Howard filed an EEOC complaint with NAVAIR. The EEOC administrative judge found that McCall had no supervisory authority over Howard and that Howard's first official comment about the allegations to NAVAIR management occurred in November 1996. The administrative law judge concluded that Howard did show McCall sexually harassed her, but denied her claim because she did not make her allegations known to someone in a management capacity within NAVAIR.

Howard argues that there are material facts in dispute to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Specifically, Howard argues that there are material facts as to whether McCall was Howard's supervisor; whether the Navy exercised reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment; whether the Navy exercised reasonable care to disseminate its policy regarding sexual harassment; whether the Navy exercised reasonable care to enforce its policy regarding sexual harassment; and whether she unreasonably failed to take advantage of the remedial measures provided by the employer. The Navy counters that the material facts are not in dispute and that the evidence presented fails to establish McCall was Howard's supervisor. The Navy also argues Howard failed to show that persons in management authority knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take reasonably prompt corrective action.