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Uncooperative Employee Sinks Her Own Harassment Claim

Christine Brenneman had been on the job just two weeks when, she alleged, her supervisor, David Ryburn, started to make unwanted sexual advances toward her at a Famous Dave's restaurant in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Ryburn began by winking at his new assistant manager and blew kisses to her every day. Four weeks after Brenneman's arrival in February 2003, he started to slap her buttocks. Ryburn also allegedly made off-color and improper remarks: He offered to review Brenneman's job performance at her home and invited her to go over his "expectations" after hours. When an envelope he gave her turned out to be too small, he suggested she "pretend it was a condom and slip it on real soft."

She said she felt emotionally let down by the company. One week after HR began looking into her complaint, Brenneman resigned. And despite several subsequent invitations from Famous Dave's asking her to return, a written apology from Ryburn and the company's written pledge it had instructed him to refrain from inappropriate conduct, Brenneman refused to reconsider.

Sunken Claims
Those actions sunk her Title VII claim. "Brenneman was not constructively discharged," wrote Justices Duane Benton, Kermit Bye and Bobby Shepherd. "A reasonable person in her position would not have found the working conditions so intolerable that she was compelled to resign. Brenneman asserts she thought the investigation was complete and no action would be taken against Ryburn. This is, however, contrary to her obligation not to assume the worst and not to jump to conclusions too quickly."

The 8th Circuit held that Famous Dave's didn't retaliate against Brenneman, but did take reasonable care to prevent, and promptly correct, any sexual harassment that might have occurred.

Cristin Schmitz

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