Employment-Third Circuit Reverses District Court’s Dismissal Of Plaintiff’s Claim Of Title VII Violation Due to Hostile Work Environment and Constructive Discharge

In Mandel v. M & Q Packaging Corp., No. 11-3193 (3rd Cir. 2013), the plaintiff, Shannon Mandel (“Mandel”), had brought suit against her former employer, M & Q Packaging Corp. (“M & Q”), claiming violations of Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The district court granted summary judgment to M & Q as to all of Mandel’s claims. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) affirmed the district court’s judgment, except that it reversed on claims of hostile work environment and constructive discharge and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings on those claims. Here is what happened on the reversed claims.

In this case, on October 25, 1996, Mandel was hired as an Inside Sales and Customer Relations Coordinator by M&Q. Mandel claimed that, throughout her employment from October 25, 1996, to May 23, 2007, she was sexually harassed and discriminated against by male managers, supervisors, and owners in various incidents, including being asked to make coffee. On April 6, 2007, during a meeting regarding sample orders, one M&Q employee became angry, repeatedly called Mandel a “bitch,” and screamed “shut the fuck up.” As a result of the meeting, Mandel resigned on May 23, 2007, submitting a letter with two weeks’ notice to M&Q. In her resignation letter, Mandel did not complain of harassment or discrimination, apparently because she was concerned she would be denied her vacation time. While she later admitted that, although the company’s employee handbook had policies for dealing with harassment and discrimination, she felt uncomfortable coming forward with her complaints. Further, although Mandel had complained to M&Q about being told to make coffee, she did not complain to her supervisors about other alleged incidents of harassment or discrimination. Mandel herself had occasionally used profanity and sent emails containing sexual humor. On January 9, 2009, Mandel filed this suit against M&Q.

In analyzing the hostile work environment claim, the Court noted that Title VII prohibits sexual harassment that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the plaintiff’s employment and create an abusive working environment. To succeed on a hostile work environment claim, the plaintiff must establish that (1) the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of his/her sex, (2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive, (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff, (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person in like circumstances, and ( 5) the existence of respondeat superior liability. The Court concluded that, in this case, the district court must reexamine the scope of the incidents that are part of the claimed violation before the hostile work environment claim may be evaluated. As such, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment on the hostile work environment claim and remanded the case for further proceedings on that claim.

In analyzing the constructive discharge claim, the Court said that, to establish a claim of constructive, the plaintiff must show that the employer knowingly permitted conditions of discrimination in employment so intolerable that a reasonable person subject to them would resign. The Court concluded that, since it is reversing the district court’s decision with respect to the hostile work environment claim, the district court needs to reevaluate the constructive discharge claim, in light of evidence of a hostile work
environment, to determine if the conditions of Mandel’s employment had become intolerable. As such, as it did with the hostile environment claim, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the constructive discharge claim, and remanded the case for further proceedings on that claim as well.