Sexual Harassment Suit Fails Again on Appeal

April 23, 2003 ( - A woman who claims she was sexually harassed when a co-worker grabbed her buttocks has lost her second legal skirmish in a ruling by a federal appeals court.

>The 8 th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling from US District Judge Stephen Limbaugh of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri throwing out plaintiff Collette Meriwether’s lawsuit against her employer Caraustar Packaging Company and awarding the company attorney fees, according to the court’s opinion.

>The appeals judges said the February 2001 incident, which included a follow-up confrontation between Meriwether and the co-worker, wasn’t enough to constitute a harassment claim. “We agree with (Limbaugh) that the lone grabbing incident and subsequent encounter does not rise to the level of severe or pervasive conduct to alter the conditions of Meriwether’s employment and create an abusive working environment,” the judges wrote.

>The appeals court said they also ruled against Meriwether because she couldn’t show that Caraustar, a packaging products manufacturer, failed to do anything about the incident once the company knew about it. In fact, according to the appeals court decision, the co-worker, identified as Charlie Winston, was first suspended for two days and then for five days at the conclusion of an internal probe. He was also required to review Caraustar’s harassment policy and go to harassment training and threatened with being fired if the incident was repeated. The company also granted Meriwether’s request for a shift change.

>Noting that Winston didn’t harass Meriwether again, the appeals court wrote: “Caraustar’s actions were prompt and effective as a matter of law.”

>Meriwether said she was absent from work for five days because of the incident and suffered anxiety and depression because of it.

On the attorney fees issue, the court pointed out the Meriwether’s deposition testimony contradicted statements made in her lawsuit and that her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was also “inconsistent.”