Appeals court throws out woman's sexual harassment award against General Motors

Friday, August 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A divided appeals court panel threw out a $1 million verdict for a woman who said she was sexually harassed at a General Motors plant, ruling that the treatment she received, while ``boorish,'' did not create a hostile workplace.

In a 2-1 decision issued Thursday, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge David Hansen wrote that Diana Duncan failed to prove accused harasser James Booth's conduct rose to harassment.

``Numerous cases have rejected hostile work environment claims premised upon facts equally or more egregious than the conduct at issue here,'' Hansen wrote, clearing the world's largest automaker of a federal jury's December 1999 award.

Duncan, 38, alleged that while she was at the Wentzville plant in suburban St. Louis from 1994 to 1997, Booth made unwelcome advances, criticized her work when she rebuffed him and unnecessarily touched her hand.

Duncan also claimed Booth exposed her to a computer screensaver showing a naked woman and an obscenely shaped pacifier, and asked her to draw planter in his office shaped like a slouched man wearing a sombrero with a cactus protruding from his pants.

Booth also helped create a ``recruitment'' poster tacked to a bulletin board at the plant, portraying Duncan as president and chief executive of the ``Man Hater's Club of America,'' Duncan said.

She said Booth also asked her to type a draft of the beliefs of the ``He-Men Women Hater's Club,'' including assertions that ``women (are) the cause of 99.9 percent of stress in men'' and ``prostitution should be legalized.''

When reached Thursday night at his home, Booth said each claim ``never happened.''

Duncan resigned shortly after telling GM officials of Booth's conduct but before the automaker could initiate any suggested remedies, Thursday's ruling said.

Five months later, Duncan filed a sexual-discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later sued. Jurors later awarded her $700,000 on her sexual-harassment charge and $300,000 on her claim of intolerable working conditions.

In scrapping that jury award Thursday, Hansen wrote that Duncan, as a matter of law, ``did not show a sexually harassing hostile environment sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of her employment, a failure that dooms Duncan's hostile work environment claim.''

``Booth's actions were boorish, chauvinistic and decidedly immature, but we cannot say they created an objectively hostile work environment permeated with sexual harassment,'' Hansen wrote.

In dissenting, Judge Richard S. Arnold wrote Duncan ``was subjected to a long series of incidents of sexual harassment in her workplace, going far beyond `gender-related jokes and occasional teasing.'''

Duncan attorney Stephen Ryals said he would petition the 8th Circuit to reconsider.

Booth said he still works at the plant and has not been reprimanded over Duncan's claims. Messages left with General Motors were not immediately returned Thursday night.