United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
Honorable Richard A. Jones, United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs-Intervenors'
Motion for New Trial. Dkt. #234. Although
Plaintiffs-Intervenors Elena Perea Olea and Celia Sanchez
Perea have requested oral argument, the Court finds that oral
argument is unnecessary. For the reasons stated below, the
Court GRANTS Plaintiffs-Intervenors'
Serapia Matamoros Perea (“Matamoros”), Elena
Perea Olea (“Perea”), and Celia Sanchez Perea
“Plaintiffs-Intervenors”), brought claims of
sexual harassment against Defendant Trans Ocean Seafoods,
Inc. (“Trans Ocean”), under Section 703(a) of
Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and the Washington
Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”).
Plaintiffs-Intervenors alleged that they were sexually
harassed by their immediate supervisor, Bartolo Pilar
(“Pilar”), and other male employees while working
as clam harvesters at Trans Ocean. At the conclusion of trial
the jury did not find, by a preponderance of the evidence,
that Trans Ocean knew or should have known about Pilar's
or other employees' harassment of Perea and Sanchez. Dkt.
#176. On July 12, 2017, Plaintiffs-Intervenors Perea and
Sanchez filed a motion for a new trial. Dkt. #234.
Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) provides that a “court
may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the
issues . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a
new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in
federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a).
“Rule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a motion
for a new trial may be granted, ” courts are
“bound by those grounds that have been historically
recognized.” Zhang v. Am. Gem Seafoods, Inc.,
339 F.3d 1020, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003). Included among these
historically recognized grounds are claims “that the
verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the
damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial
was not fair to the party moving.” Molski v. M.J.
Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Montgomery Ward & Co v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243,
251 (1940)). Ordinarily, a “trial court may grant a new
trial only if the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of
the evidence, is based upon false or perjurious evidence, or
to prevent a miscarriage of justice.” Id.
(quoting Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer
Prods., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n.15 (9th Cir. 2000)).
Title VII and WLAD, an employer is liable for the harassment
of a co-worker if the employer knew or should have known of
the harassment but did not take adequate steps to address it.
Swinton v. Potomac Corp., 270 F.3d 794, 803 (9th
Cir. 2001). Plaintiffs-Intervenors argue that the jury's
finding that Trans Ocean did not know and should not have
known of the harassment of Perea and Sanchez is contrary to
the weight of the evidence presented at trial.
argue that Trans Ocean's response to a request for
admission, business records, and testimony at trial establish
that Trans Ocean knew that Perea and Sanchez were being
harassed. Number 12 of Plaintiffs-Intervenors' Requests
for Admission, read into the record at trial, states:
“Admit that there was one informal complaint against
Bartolo Pilar prior to April 2013 for using sexual language
in the workplace. Answer: Admit.” Dkt. #235 Ex. 4.
Plaintiffs-Intervenors also submitted as exhibits notes
titled, “Sexual Harassment Claim Investigation”,
and discipline documentation forms for Matamoros and Pilar.
All three documents reference a prior complaint against Pilar
and Matamoros' claim that Pilar was also sexually
harassing other women. Dkt. 235 Ex. J, I and N.
argument is based on the proposition that knowledge of a
hostile work environment as to one victim can be imputed to
all alleged victims. However, this theory of liability is not
supported by case law. Plaintiffs-Intervenors cite to two
cases to support its theory; both of which are inapposite and
unpersuasive. In E.E.O.C. v. Fred Meyer Stores,
Inc., the district court found that plaintiff need not
allege that each class member involved in a class action
complained about harassment in order to meet the pleading
requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), not
that knowledge of the harassment of one victim is sufficient
to prove that there was knowledge of the harassment of all
potential victims. E.E.O.C. v. Fred Meyer Stores,
Inc., 954 F.Supp.2d 1104, 1112 (D. Or. 2013), on
reconsideration in part (Sept. 19, 2013).
also cite to Davis v. U.S. Postal Serv., 142 F.3d
1334 (10th Cir. 1998). In Davis v. U.S. Postal
Service, the plaintiff appealed the district court's
decision granting defendants' motion for judgment as a
matter of law as to all of her claims. On appeal, the Tenth
Circuit found that, when considered in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, a rational jury could find that
the defendant negligently handled the plaintiff's sexual
harassment complaint because there was evidence that the
defendant employer was aware of previous complaints against
the employee and thus should have been on notice of his
harassing behavior. While the previous complaints were
evidence that supported plaintiff's claim that defendant
was negligent, the appellate court did not find that
knowledge of harassment of others automatically equated to
knowledge of harassment of the plaintiff, only that it was
possible that a jury could find that it constituted notice.
this theory of liability, Trans Ocean's response to a
request for admission acknowledging a prior complaint against
Pilar, its business records noting the same, and
Matamoros' complaint that Pilar was also harassing other
women at work, are not sufficient to establish that Trans
Ocean had actual knowledge that Perea and Sanchez were being
harassed without other corroborating evidence.
Plaintiffs-Intervenors argue that Matamoros, Perea, Sanchez,
and Emily John-Martin all provided testimony corroborating
Plaintiffs-Intervenors' claim that Perea and Sanchez
reported their sexual harassment to Trans Ocean's
Operations Manager, Sebastian Santelices. Matamoros, Perea,
and Sanchez testified that they reported that Pilar was
sexually harassing them on two occasions prior to filing a
complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”). Dkt. #235 Ex. A-D. The first was at an
off-site meeting with Santelices, and the second was at an
employee meeting at Trans Ocean's processing plant.
Id. At the first meeting off-site, Perea and
Matamoros told Santelices that Pilar was making sexual
comments about them. Santelices then told the women that
there would be another meeting and that he would talk to
Pilar. Dkt. #235 Ex. A-C. Perea and Sanchez made a second
complaint about Pilar's sexual comments shortly after the
first, at an employee meeting. Santelices, Matamoros, Perea,
Sanchez, and John-Martin were all present. Id.
Sanchez testified that Perea again complained to Santelices
that Pilar was sexually harassing them. Dkt. #235 Ex. ...