UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RONALD R. LAGUEUX, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
These consolidated cases were instituted by plaintiffs Gary Showalter and Nenh Phetosomphone alleging that they were sexually harassed while employed at Techni-Craft Plating Company, a jewelry plating firm located in Cranston, Rhode Island. Essentially, they both claim that defendant Noel Smith, the General Manager of Techni-Craft, forced them to engage in various sexual activities with his secretary, defendant Carol Marsella, by threatening them with the loss of their jobs if they did not acquiesce in his demands.
Each complaint filed against Smith, Marsella, and Allison Reed Group, Inc., the corporate owner of Techni-Craft, contains two counts. The first count seeks equitable relief for sexual harassment under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the second count makes a claim for monetary damages under Rhode Island law for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. These two cases were tried together with a jury. The Court directed a verdict for defendant Allison Reed Group on the second count of each complaint at the conclusion of plaintiffs' case. The defendants presented their evidence and the matter was submitted to the jury on each plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Smith and Marsella. The jury returned a verdict for each defendant on that claim. Later, the Court denied plaintiffs' motions for a new trial on the state law claims because the Court was satisfied that plaintiffs had failed to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence all elements of such a cause of action. The Court then took plaintiffs' request for equitable relief under Title VII against all three defendants under advisement. The Title VII claims are now in order for decision.
Showalter was an employee at the Techni-Craft Plating Company from 1976 to 1979. He rejoined Techni-Craft in 1984 and worked there as a barrel plater until sustaining a back injury in June of 1989. He has been receiving worker's compensation benefits since that time. Phetosomphone was employed at Techni-Craft from September 1987 until July of 1989.
Plaintiffs allege that a bevy of sexual incidents occurred on the Techni-Craft premises commencing during the summer of 1988 and lasting until their cessation of day to day work in June and July of 1989. Defendants Smith and Marsella deny that most incidents ever occurred. Allison Reed Group also denies that most incidents occurred and also contends that any such activity would clearly be outside the scope of its managing employee's job responsibilities.
The evidence establishes that an environment of sexual innuendo was prevalent at Techni-Craft during the time in question. Evidence of two particular incidents serves to prove the existence of such an environment. First, at the 1988 Christmas party, which was held on company premises, several employees exchanged gifts of a sexual nature. For example, Marsella gave two tee-shirts with sexually suggestive slogans. One shirt was introduced into evidence and marked as Plaintiff's Exhibit 7. It says "All I want is a little peace and quiet. Give me a little piece and I'll be quiet." A photograph of the second shirt was introduced into evidence and marked as Defendant's Exhibit K3. It says "Big cats are dangerous but a little pussy won't hurt anyone!" Another photograph, marked as Defendant's Exhibit H4 shows Marsella holding a present she received of black panties.
Second, the testimony of Daniel Salzillo, a retired letter carrier for the United States Postal Service, helps establish the existence of an environment charged with sexual innuendo at Techni-Craft. Salzillo testified that he was the regular carrier for Techni-Craft for seventeen years. He also testified that Marsella "flashed" him by showing him "everything she had" one day in the Spring of 1989. Showalter testified that Marsella flashed the mailman on a fifty dollar bet from Smith. Although Smith and Marsella denied the incident occurred, the Court believes that both Salzillo's and Showalter's testimony is more credible.
Showalter certainly did not refrain from interacting with his peers at Techni-Craft. One co-worker, Maurice Szarko, testified that he and Showalter, as a "joke," used to jockey for position in order to look down Marsella's blouse or up her skirt. Szarko testified that this happened numerous times, and was able to describe in detail the design pattern of Marsella's panties. The evidence also shows that Showalter participated in giving "gag" gifts of a sexual nature at the 1988 Christmas party. For example, Nicholas Ruzzano, another Techni-Craft employee, testified that Showalter gave him a package of condoms at the party. Defendant's Exhibit H2 is a photograph that shows Ruzzano holding up the condoms. In addition, several co-workers testified that Showalter bragged about his supposed sexual exploits with various women, and about his possession of x-rated videos. There is also credible evidence that Showalter made lewd proposals to a female co-worker on several occasions. In short, the evidence establishes that Showalter willingly contributed to the environment of sexual innuendo at Techni-Craft.
Phetosomphone, a Laotian immigrant, although hampered by a language barrier, also contributed to the sexual innuendo prevalent at Techni-Craft. Although not proficient in English, there is evidence that Phetosomphone mastered and regularly uttered several English vulgarities. Phetosomphone added some levity to the proceedings by testifying through an interpreter that the famous Shakespearean four letter colloquialism for sexual intercourse was also a Laotian word meaning "slicing the papaya."
Plaintiffs' claims of sexual harassment are not rooted in any of the above facts. Rather, a more egregious, less welcome series of activities by Smith and Marsella form the basis of their Title VII claims. These events stem from the relationship between Smith and Marsella and Smith's desire to have the plaintiffs participate in that relationship.
Smith and Marsella's relationship extended beyond that of boss and secretary. Clearly, they were having a sexual liaison. Both Smith and Marsella testified that they frequently went out to lunch together while at Techni-Craft. They also testified that they frequently went golfing together while employed there. After Smith resigned from Techni-Craft, both he and Marsella went to work together for another company owned by a Smith relative. They were also both laid off from that company at the same time.
The Sexual Harassment of Showalter
In the Spring of 1988, Smith began talking incessantly, and obsessively, about Marsella to Showalter. These talks were invariably of a sexual nature, and usually described Smith's sexual relationship with Marsella. Smith also shared with Showalter his various artistic expressions of his relationship with Marsella: nude photographs, pornographic drawings, and x-rated letters. Also, beginning in the Spring of 1988, Smith attempted to change Showalter's physical appearance in order to make him more pleasing to Marsella. Most notably, Smith told Showalter to begin wearing a long sleeve button down shirt to work instead of his customary tee-shirt. Smith explained the request as follows: "Carol Marsella wants to see you in a shirt." Showalter's initial refusal to change the type of shirt he wore to work caused Smith to repeat the demand.
By the end of the summer of 1988, Smith began directly prodding Showalter to join his sexual liaison with Marsella. Smith began telling Showalter that Marsella was interested in Showalter, and that he should join their sexual activity. Showalter declined on the grounds that he was married. Smith immediately stated that both he and Marsella were also married and that what their spouses didn't know wouldn't hurt them. Angrily, Smith told Showalter that Marsella controlled the hiring and firing decisions at Techni-Craft, and that if he valued his job he would follow Smith's demands. It is clear from the evidence that at this time Smith was attempting to install at the workplace a modified menage a trois.
Unfortunately for Smith, Showalter indeed proved to be more a man of words than of action. Thus, Smith was forced to make repeated threats to Showalter. For example, Smith reminded Showalter of his extensive connections in the jewelry business in Rhode Island implying that Showalter would be blackballed from the industry if he did not comply. Smith also told Showalter that he had to please Marsella in order for everything between Smith and Marsella "to be okay." At one point, Smith also threatened Showalter with the loss of his medical benefits if he failed to participate in the sexual activity. Smith knew that the medical benefits were especially important to Showalter because Showalter's eldest son had a heart defect and had undergone three open heart surgeries. Showalter had had discussions in the past with Smith apprising him of his son's condition.
Showalter first acceded to Smith's demands in September of 1988, when Smith orchestrated an after hours strip-tease performance by Marsella on company premises. Before the actual event, Smith gave explicit instructions to Showalter outlining the various sexual activity Smith expected Showalter to engage in with Marsella and him. Although Marsella failed to show up a couple of times as scheduled by Smith, she eventually did perform a strip-tease in front of Smith and Showalter. She also performed a second strip-tease about a month later.
Each time, Marsella stripped off all her clothes while dancing to music emanating from a portable tape recorder. When she finished undressing, Showalter followed Smith's earlier instructions and joined him in performing sexual acts with Marsella. Each time Showalter was unable to fully follow Smith's instructions because he could not attain an erection. The first time Marsella told Showalter that he was "out of luck," and left the area. The second time Smith asked Showalter what was wrong with him and even suggested that he take vitamins to remedy that situation.
Showalter was also forced to observe and engage in other sexual activity at Techni-Craft from September 1988 until June 1989. On a regular basis, when Showalter worked overtime and other employees had left, Smith required him to engage in sexual activity with Marsella. The sexual harassment was also present during the regular workday hours. Once Showalter witnessed Marsella and Smith engaging in oral sex in Marsella's office as he walked by. Twice Showalter changed the outside storm windows at Marsella's office, once in the fall of 1988 and once in the spring of 1989. Both times, Smith and Marsella fondled each other and engaged in oral sex in full view of the window. Another time, Marsella grabbed him by his genitals; Showalter also witnessed Marsella do the same to Phetosomphone. Showalter also witnessed Phetosomphone fondle Marsella upon orders of Smith at a cribbage game of several employees during a break in the normal work day.
Showalter also was required to participate in a strip poker game on company premises following the 1988 Techni-Craft Christmas party. The game broke up when a driver from United Parcel Service unexpectedly opened up an unlocked door.
During the spring of 1989 Smith attempted to coerce Showalter to get Showalter's wife involved in Smith's broadening sexual net. Showalter resisted all of Smith's efforts, having to suddenly uninvite his wife to a jewelry convention to spare her from exposure to Smith's sexual circus.
The Sexual Harassment of Phetosomphone
Smith also forced Nenh Phetosomphone to observe and participate in sexual activity at Techni-Craft. Phetosomphone assisted Showalter in twice changing Marsella's storm windows and saw the same sexual acts Showalter witnessed. Phetosomphone also participated briefly in the strip poker game after the 1988 Christmas party. In addition, as mentioned before, Marsella on one occasion grabbed his genital area.
The majority of the harassment of Phetosomphone concerns incidents that occurred during cribbage games and twice in Marsella's office. Beginning in January of 1989, Noel Smith told Phetosomphone to stand near Marsella at the daily card game played on the afternoon break and touch Marsella on her breasts and on her behind. Phetosomphone did this on several occasions.
Phetosomphone also engaged in sexual activity twice in Marsella's office on orders from Smith, while Smith viewed the activities from an adjoining room. Phetosomphone feared that he would lose his job if he refused to comply with the sexual demands made on him. He ...