Nestle Waters is the latest employer to face a sexual harassment lawsuit in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to a complaint filed in the matter of Mateo v. Nestle Waters North America, Inc., a gay employee of the bottled water company allegedly was the victim of a hostile work environment, discrimination, and retaliation at a Nestle Waters distribution facility.
The employee, who identifies as gay or bisexual, alleges that shortly after beginning work at the distribution facility, a supervisor and co-workers engaged in harassing behavior that included making anti-gay comments in his presence, touching his nipples, threatening physical violence with a knife, inviting the employee to engage in sexual relations, and calling him offensive names in the presence of a least one supervisor. The employee reported the alleged harassment to Nestle Human Resources in the summer of 2012 but no investigation took place. Nestle claims that it conducted anti-harassment training in July 2013, which ended the anti-gay remarks by the co-workers and the supervisor, which the employee disputes.
Nestle Finds Loophole
After several physical altercations with a co-worker (which Nestle contends was instigated by the plaintiff although it was documented that the co-worker used anti-gay language), Nestle terminated the gay employee while his co-worker retained his position. Nestle alleges that following the termination, they discovered that the employee had omitted or misrepresented pertinent information on his employment application, including that he was let go by previous employers on the basis of poor performance or conduct. The employee subsequently filed a federal lawsuit claiming violations of Title VII and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, based on sexual orientation discrimination, sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation.
Court Rejects Nestle’s Claims
The New Jersey federal district court recently denied Nestle’s motion for summary judgment on the hostile work environment, sex discrimination, and retaliation counts, allowing the employee to go forward with these claims. With respect to the hostile work environment claims, the court held that a reasonable jury could conclude the employee suffered “severe and pervasive” harassment. The court was unable, as a matter of law, to determine whether Nestle was vicariously liable for the alleged sexual harassment.
There were sufficient disputed material facts relating to this issue, such as whether the co-worker who allegedly witnessed the harassment qualified as a management level employee, the date Nestle had notice of the alleged harassment, and whether Nestle took prompt and adequate action after receiving such notice.
Nestle’s argument that the employee was unable to demonstrate discrimination as his termination resulted from his physical altercation with his co-workers was also rejected by the court. The court suggested Nestle’s stated reason for firing the employee could be a pretext as other non-gay employees were not fired for similar behavior.
With respect to the retaliation claims, the Court found that as a matter of law, Nestle could not prove a lack of casual connection between the plaintiff’s complaint and his termination, given the close proximity between the employee’s harassment complaint in July 2013 and his termination in September 2013, along with the employer’s failure to fire heterosexual employees for similar behavior.
Red Bank LGBTQ Discrimination Lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. Fight for Victims of Discrimination in the Workplace
The experienced Red Bank LGBTQ discrimination lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. represent New Jersey employees and employers in a wide variety of employment related matters, including sexual harassment and discrimination cases. With offices conveniently located in Red Bank and Marlton, New Jersey, we proudly represent clients throughout the state. Call our Red Bank office at 732-842-6500, our Marlton office at 856-985-9800, our Newark office at 973-878-9040, or contact us at 888-396-0736 or online for a free consultation. We represent clients throughout New Jersey.