For more information please call  800.727.2766


Employee Failed to Demonstrate Employer Knowledge of Hostile Work Environment

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment where a female employee could not establish that she complained previously to her employer and the employee had also violated company policy.

Rachel Bentley worked for AutoZone as a sales associate. She had a spotty performance record with repeated attendance issues. She also had issues with the male parts sales manager (PSM) in her store. She claimed he made vulgar and disparaging comments about women, calling women “lazy” and asserting that they should be home baking cookies. She alleged that she complained about this conduct in texts to the human resources manager. The human resources manager has those texts and they do not reflect any such complaints. Towards the end of her employment, Bentley alleged that the PSM had threatened to slap her. HR spoke to both employees. Bentley complained again to the HR manager two months later, asserting that the PSM criticized women, referred to Bentley as “lazy,” stated in front of customers “never work with a female, females are lazy, they don’t do anything,” asserted that “[g]uys are superior to women,” and said he did not want to work with women. The HR manager investigated. The PSM said Bentley told him “you need to get your d**k sucked.” Bentley admitted making that remark. Both she and the PSM were fired. Bentley sued for sex discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment.

The Second Circuit found inconsistencies in Bentley’s deposition testimony, where she changed her story after being confronted with the fact that she did not send text messages complaining and testified at one point that she had never reported his comments. Thus, AutoZone could not be shown to have notice prior to the HR manager’s questioning. Moreover, AutoZone had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating her: the inappropriate comment to the PSM. Bentley admitted that her comment was inappropriate and violated company policy. The fact that she was fired for a single offense while the PSM had multiple sexist comments was not enough to show the male PSM was treated more favorably. They were both fired after the investigation into their conduct. Strict liability did not apply in this case because there was no evidence the PSM could fire, hire, promote or demote employees.