Beem seeks summary judgment in sexual harassment case

Steve Gonzalez Aug. 12, 2008, 9:00am

U.S. District Court Judge G. Patrick Murphy has taken under advisement two motions that ask him to grant summary judgment in a sexual harassment case against Madison County.

Murphy held a hearing on Aug. 11, to decide whether to allow two summary judgment motions.

County employee Robin Beem filed the sexual harassment and discrimination complaint against the county in U.S. District Court on Sept. 18, 2007, alleging she was exposed to a hostile work environment that included being exposed to pornography.

Beem's suit stems from alleged actions by former Madison County Administrator Jim Monday, who retired in March 2006, after 20 years on the job.

Beem alleged she was subjected to an unwelcome sexually harassing environment and was required to work in an environment that was objectively and subjectively hostile to her because she was a woman.

She is employed as the county board secretary.

Beem filed a motion for summary judgment on July 11, arguing summary judgment should be granted in her favor because through depositions and written discovery Madison County has admitted all elements of a Title VII sexual harassment claim.

If her motion is granted, Beem wants a separate trial to determine damages.

Beem was not the only one to file a summary judgment motion on July 11. The County also filed one arguing it is entitled to summary judgment for two reasons.

The county contends that Beem failed to take advantage of the Madison County Sexual Harassment Policy. The county also contends the conduct alleged did not rise to the level of actionable sexual harassment.

Beem only alleges she viewed pornography on the computer of her supervisor while her supervisor was in his private office, the county said.

At an Aug. 11 hearing, Beem's attorney, Lee Barron of Alton, told Murphy that the county elected to ignore the law regarding sexual harassment.

Barron argued that his client did all that was required of her with regards to the county's sexual harassment policy.

Barron added that Madison County manufactured a defense arguing Beem's report of sexual harassment was deficient because the report made to Alan Dunstan was not made using the correct written form.

"This argument is as silly as it sounds," Barron said.

Barron said that the only way the county could defend the complaint is by turning Title VII into a game of "Mother May I?"

Barron also argued that the policy does not require anything other than a report, which Beem personally made to County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan.

In addition, Barron argues the county has presented absolutely no evidence that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct Monday's sexually harassing conduct.

Barron added that Dunstan testified in his deposition that he was aware that the county could search any county computer at any time and that the county has a policy to maintain a log of all Internet sites visited.

"If defendant had simply implemented the Internet usage policy it had on the books, Monday would have been caught," Barron said.

"Instead of taking effective and prompt remedial measures, defendant adopted a response that would have made Inspector Jacques Clouseau proud," Barron added.

Barron said Dunstan put in place a scheme to try to sneak up on Monday and catch him watching pornography instead of taking immediate action.

Representing the county, Larry Bauer of St. Louis argued that Murphy should deny Beem's motion and grant the county's.

Bauer argues that there are several misstatements in Beem's pleadings regarding the facts.

Bauer argues that Beem stated that there were no problems with her job performance when in fact Dunstan talked with her about concerns Monday had with various aspects of her performance.

Bauer contends it was not until Monday complained that Beem was making too many personal phone calls and shopping online too much until Beem made allegations that Monday was viewing pornography on his computer.

He contends that Dunstan did not view her comments in this context as a complaint under the sexual harassment policy.

Bauer also argued that there is no evidence that Beem actually saw a single image out of the large volume of pornographic photos removed from Monday's computer by the sheriff department.

"The undisputed evidence shows that Monday never intended for anyone to see any pornographic images on his computer. He took affirmative steps to ensure that no one else saw such images," Bauer said.

"He wiped his drive using special software every night to erase the images," he added.

Bauer points to Monday's discovery deposition in which he stated, "I had no idea that she [Beem] was viewing what was going on or that she was upset by it."

Bauer said the evidence shows that Beem mentioned seeing images from time to time to various people while choosing not to use the County's Sexual Harassment Policy.

"When she mentioned seeing images to Human Resources Manager Ms. Sillery, she never asked Ms. Sillery to investigate under the policy," Bauer said.

He added that when Sillery asked Beem if she wanted to lodge a complaint under the policy, Beem declined to do so.

Bauer added that Beem even testified in her deposition that Dunstan may not have even been aware that she was lodging a complaint against Monday prior to October 2005.

Bauer also argued that Beem was obviously sending mixed signals-that she did not like seeing the images but that they did not bother her enough to lodge a complaint.

"She now acts like every time she mentioned images on Monday's computer, she was actually lodging a complaint which should have triggered an investigation," Bauer argued.

He added that it is not a game of "Mother May I?"

Bauer said Beem and her lawyer are really trying to manufacture a claim where none exists by a game of "Gotcha."

Murphy took the matter under advisement and said he would issue a written order once he decides.

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