Puskas v. Pine Hills

Puskas v. Pine Hills, 2013 MT 223 (Aug. 13, 2013) (5-0) (Morris, J.)

Issue: (1) Whether substantial credible evidence supports the district court’s determination that Pine Hills held open an offer for Puskas to transfer units from June 2009 until Puskas quit in 2010; (2) whether the district court correctly determined that Pine Hills reasonably and promptly offered a solution to end AH’s harassment of Puskas; and (3) whether the district court correctly dismissed Puskas’ retaliation claim.

Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) yes; and (3) yes.

Affirmed

Facts: Cassie Puskas was a correctional officer at Pine Hills, a youth correctional facility for males up to age 18, from December 2006 to January 2010. She worked in the sex offender unit for most of her time there. All parties agree she was a quality employee.

Puskas had difficulties with AH, an inmate at Pine Hills. AH was reported for multiple violations between December 2008 and January 2010, including masturbating, threatening staff, assaulting other inmates, sexually assaulting staff, and other threatening behaviors. Puskas reported at least 14 of these incidents.

AH would follow Puskas around the sex offender unit. In June 2009, Pine Hills temporarily assigned Puskas to the maximum security unit to get her away from AH. In January 2010, Puskas saw AH standing at his door window, masturbating. She ordered him away from the door, and he threatened to kill her.

The next day, Puskas met with the director of care and custody to discuss her concerns about AH’s behavior. Young offered to transfer Puskas to another unit, but Puskas wanted AH to be transferred to the maximum security unit. Pine Hills deemed AH an inappropriate candidate for permanent placement there for several reasons.

Puskas quit her job after her meeting with the director. She filed an action against Pine Hills for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Both parties moved for summary judgment, and the district court denied both motions. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment for Pine Hills on all claims, noting that AH’s behavior improved considerably after AH left her employment. Puskas appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The district court determined that Pine Hills had given Puskas the option of transferring to another unit. Substantial credible evidence supports that finding.

(2) The district court determined that Pine HIlls should not be held liable for AH’s actions as either sexual harassment of a hostile work environment because corrective measures were reasonably calculated to end the harassment and were undertaken promptly. Substantial credible evidence supported the district court’s determination that Pine Hills’ offer to transfer Puskas to a different unit was the only reasonable option available to remedy AH’s harassment, and its finding that Pine Hills acted reasonably and promptly when it became aware that AH’s behavior had become sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of Puskas’ employment conditions.

(3)  The district court further determined that Puskas failed to establish that she had been subjected to an adverse employment action based on her complaint against AH. The Supreme Court agrees that Pine Hills had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to transfer Puskas to another Pine Hills unit.