Coke Bottler Plant Manager’s Texts Could Be Sexual Harassment

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By Patrick Dorrian

A former inventory control supervisor for a Coca-Cola bottling company in Oklahoma can go forward with her claim that she was sexually harassed by her plant manager, a federal judge ruled.

The harassment included Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Okmulgee, Okla., facility plant manager Rick Randleman sending Samantha Payne more than 5,000 text messages and allegedly touching and trying to kiss her.

The March 13 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma is a reminder that whether illegal harassment occurred in the workplace is determined by looking at the entire course of misbehavior alleged by the victim, so long as it’s all part of one continuous pattern. That’s true even if some or most of the alleged harassment happened too long ago to independently support a timely lawsuit.

Payne says Randleman’s harassment was so bad it created problems in her marriage. It also prompted Randleman’s wife to come to the plant to demand Payne’s discharge.

Randleman’s wife “caused such a scene” that the plant’s human resources manager had to get involved, and Randleman was transferred to a plant in Oklahoma City, Payne says. But that didn’t stop the harassment, which had included “almost daily” lunch invitations from Randleman as part of his stalking and repeated attempts to coerce her into a romantic relationship with him, Payne alleges in her January 2018 amended complaint.

Following his transfer, Randleman called to tell Payne she had looked “hot” at a funeral the two had attended and that he still missed her, she charges. That allegation is enough to connect her earlier, untimely allegations of sexual harassment with her later, timely assertions, Judge Claire V. Eagan said, rejecting Great Plains’ argument that Payne’s hostile work environment claim should be dismissed because it was brought too late.

Payne’s allegations also sufficiently detail sexual harassment actionable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the judge said. She said “it is certainly plausible that Randleman’s alleged sex-based harassment created an objectively and subjectively abusive working environment” for Payne.

Termination Claim Has Pop, but Others Fizzle

Payne can also proceed with her claim that her January 2017 termination for discussing with hourly employees the performance of two other managers, and then discussing with them the corrective action she was placed on as a result of that earlier discussion, was itself based on sex. The other two managers were men, and Payne had reported both of them for making inappropriate comments in front of hourly workers, the court said.

But neither man was fired, according to Payne. That’s enough to state a claim for sex discrimination in Payne’s termination, Eagan said. She didn’t need to allege that she and the male managers shared the same supervisor because employment discrimination plaintiffs aren’t required to plead all elements of a claim in a court complaint, the judge said.

The court dismissed Payne’s retaliation claim and her separate claim of sex discrimination based on Randleman’s actions. She didn’t allege she suffered an adverse employment action as a result of Randleman’s conduct, the court said.

Jean Walpole Coulter & Associates Inc. represents Payne. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C. represents Great Plains.

The case is Payne v. Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 2018 BL 84689, N.D. Okla., No. 17-CV-0578, motion to dismiss denied in part 3/13/18.

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