The act of getting coffee is not a gender specific act that can form the basis for a sexual harassment claim according to a recent court decision in Klopfenstein v. National Sales and Supply. The plaintiff had asserted that being compelled to perform what she considered to be a ‘servile task’ was, in and of itself, gender discrimination and gender based harassment so clearly stereotypical as to not specifically require comparator evidence. In essence, the plaintiff was contending that asking a female employee, regardless of the position that she held, to get coffee for her boss was per se because of her gender. Keep in mind that the plaintiff was a receptionist who did not object to getting coffee and refreshments for clients and vendors.
Despite the absence of any contention that she was subject to sexual advances, the plaintiff also sought to characterize her being required to get coffee as what she called “quasi quid pro” harassment. Rather than being required to submit to a sexual advance, the gravamen of a quid pro quo theory, the plaintiff contended that she was required to conform to an outdated gender stereotype. This theory also rejected.
Finally, the plaintiff sought an expansive interpretation of what may constitute adverse action sufficient to support a claim of retaliation. After being advised that she would be discharged and paid for the rest of her last day, the plaintiff implored her employer to work through the end of the day. When she subsequently indicated that she might file a complaint, she was told to leave but still was paid for the rest of the day. The court noted that this could not constitute materially adverse action by the employer that might well dissuade a reasonable person from making a complaint. If anything, the Court noted, such a worker’s resilience in pursuing a charge or complaint “would likely be emboldened”
The court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment ruling that a female receptionist/data entry clerk could not make out a prima facie case for retaliation, sexual harassment or gender discrimination. National Sales and Supply was represented by Brian F. Jackson and Marcy L. McCullough of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC.