Employment-Third Circuit Rules That Knowledge Of Employees Below Management Level May Not Be Imputed to Employer For Purposes OF Imposing Liability Under Title VII

In Huston v. Proctor & Gamble Paper Products Corporation, No. 07-2799 (3rd Cir. 2009), the Court faced a suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) for sexual harassment and retaliation. The plaintiff/ employee was appealing a summary judgment by the District Court in favor of the defendant/employer, Proctor & Gamble Products Corporation (“P & G”). The major issue facing the court was whether two P&G employees-namely, Traver and Romanchick- qualify as “management level”, so that their knowledge may be imputed to P&G for purposes of imposing liability on P & G under Title VII.

The Court affirmed the District Court’s summary judgment against the plaintiff. In doing so, the Court noted that, in the case of a claim for sexual harassment under Title VII, the employer is liable only if the employer either:

— failed to provide a reasonable avenue for complaint; or

–knew or should have known of the harassment, and failed to take prompt and appropriate remedial action.

The primary question was whether P & G had knowledge of the sexual harassment of the plaintiff by her coworkers. Traver and Romanchick knew about the sexual harassment. But did P & G itself have this knowledge? The Court indicated that, for purposes of a Title VII suit for sexual harassment, knowledge of management level employees is imputed to the employer, while knowledge of lower level employees is not. The question then becomes whether Traver and Romanchick were management level employees. The Court answered this question as follows. The Court said, in effect, that an employee’s status as a management level employee depends on the particular claim being brought against the employer. As such, an employee’s knowledge of sexual harassment may be imputed to the employer when the employee is employed to report or respond to sexual harassment. An employee may be treated as being so employed in two circumstances:

–first, the employee is sufficiently senior in the employer’s governing hierarchy, or is otherwise in a position of administrative responsibility over the employees under him, such as a departmental or plant manager, so that any knowledge of sexual harassment is important to the employee’s general managerial duties. In this case, the employee usually has the authority to stop the harassment by, for example, disciplining employees under him or changing work assignments.

–second, the employee is specifically employed to deal with sexual harassment. Typically, this employee will be a part of the employer’s human resources, personnel or employee relations group.

In the instant case, Traver and Romanchick did not qualify as management level employees, as described above. They had not been specifically employed to deal with sexual harassment. The District Court heard testimony that that P&G hired two types of employees at the plant in question: managers and technicians. The managers were salaried employees who have the authority to hire, discipline, and discharge the technicians, while the technicians, like Traver and Romanchick, were paid hourly wages and did not have the authority to hire, discipline, and discharge other employees. While they had some supervisory responsibility, Traver’s and Romanchick’s functions were limited to overseeing the production line work of their fellow technicians, to ensure that the other technicians were doing their jobs and that the machines ran smoothly. They had no authority to police for and stop harassment, or to otherwise affect any individual’s employment status. Consequently, despite any knowledge by Traver and Romanchick of acts constituting sexual harassment of the plaintiff, Traver and Romanchick were not management level employees and their knowledge of these acts is not imputed to P & G.