Government Workers Watched Porn at Work, and Judge Just Ruled Against Woman Who Complained | Law & Crime

Government Workers Watched Porn at Work, and Judge Just Ruled Against Woman Who Complained

A D.C. federal judge has mostly ruled against a woman who said a male coworker was watching porn in a cubicle next to her. Plaintiff Sharon Stewart, who works for the Federal Communications Commission is suing the government agency over that and other problems. The defendant countered with a motion for summary judgement, and U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted part of it. The court ruled that just because someone was watching porn next to the plaintiff, it didn’t prove the claim that this created a hostile work environment.

Some backstory might be in order.

According to the lawsuit, male co-worker John Finnie began watching porn at work in 2009. Stewart said they worked in adjoining cubicles. She claimed she walked in on him watching the, uh, salacious material several times. As Friday’s ruling states:

On some occasions, Mr. Finnie would click out of the images when Plaintiff walked by; on others, he would be in a “deadlock stare,” and would not click out because he was unaware of Plaintiff’s presence.

Stewart also said that on three occasions in 2012, up to four other male coworkers joined Finnie to watch porn in his cubicle, one man standing watch in case she came by. “Moans and groans” could be heard from Finnie’s cubicle.

The plaintiff claimed she first complained to her supervisor “Mr. Reed” about the porn-watching in September 2009, but no action was taken. As Friday’s ruling states [citations removed]

Asked why she thought Mr. Reed took no ameliorative actions, Plaintiff testified that it was “because he was having sex in the office himself.” … It is undisputed that Mr. Reed did have sex in his FCC office.

(A footnote says Reed denies being told about the porn watching. A 2015 report from the Office of Inspector General cited by Friday’s decision said there was evidence used an FCC computer to watch porn.)

Anyway, the court said this wasn’t proof of a hostile work environment. Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote that Stewart didn’t provide evidence that the porn-watching was directed at her, happening because she was woman, was meant to discriminate against women in general.

“Here, there is no evidence that Mr. Finnie or the other men who viewed pornography in his cubicle made any sexist remarks or otherwise engaged in any discriminatory conduct with respect to Plaintiff,” she wrote.

Friday’s ruling also granted the part of the FCC’s motion for summary judgement on Stewart’s claim that she was denied bonuses in 2012 and 2015 because the agency was retaliating against her. Nonetheless, the defendant still has to deal with the allegation that they wrongfully took away work duties from her.

“Genuine disputes of material fact exist regarding whether the removal of these duties constituted an adverse action and whether Defendant’s proffered rationale for their removal was pretext for retaliation,” the judge wrote.

[Image via nikitabuida and Shutterstock]

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