Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Company, A Division Of Texas-American Petrochemicals: Small Business Dynamics

“The burden of proof is on plaintiff to show that the employer’s asserted non-discriminatory reasons are pretextual. The term burden of proof means, of course that the employee must show that, more likely than not, the asserted reasons for the employment decision are pretextual.” (Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Co., p. 4)

 

Vivienne Rabidue worked for a small business eventually earning a position from an hourly to salaried employee operating under the name of Osceola Refining Company. The refining company was independently owned during the time Rabidue gained employment in 1970. In 1974, United Refineries of Warren, Ohio gained control and operated it as a separate division until they sold two years later in 1976, when Osceola was taken over by Texas-American Petrochemicals. After being fired from her job as well as being refused unemployment benefits by the company, Rabidue in front of a district judge and argued on April 18, 1984, that she had been the victim of sex discrimination and sex harassment under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Michigan Elliott Larsen Act. She also asserted a claim under the federal Equal Pay Act.

Rabidue’s defense in claiming a hostile work place included the facts of, porn being displayed all over the workplace, workers using crude, sexually explicit language, and the restriction that she was not allowed to participate in functions of the job that male colleagues were, such as taking a client out to lunch. According to the courts, in applying the former case model of Rasimas v. Michigan Department of Mental Health, Rabidue was required to do the following: “Rabidue must show (1) that she belongs to a protected Title VII classification; (2) that she was qualified for the Administrative Assistant position from which she was discharged; (3) that despite her qualifications, she was discharge; (4) that, subsequent to her discharge, plaintiff was replaced by a male.” Rabidue would have easily fulfilled these requirements if not for past Supreme court cases that were used to explain that the defendant is only required to come forward with evidence of its non-discriminatory motive; rather they are not required to prove anything, whereas the plaintiff must show clear evidence.

The trial court stated Rabidue had failed to “sustain any of the claims which she has asserted”. The appellate court decision stated that a “reasonable person” would not find the work environment that she was in to be hostile to women. Two out of the three appellate judges agreed with the trial court whereas the third judge dissented on the basis that a “reasonable woman” would find it hostile. However, the courts in 1984 ruled in favor of the defendant. They exclaimed Rabidue along with her fellow female employees, who corroborated Rabidue’s story with their own experiences that “Rabidue is being intolerant by complaining about the images” [pornographic]. The sexual posters as explained should have no effect on Rabidue when considering the context of society. Rabidue appealed in September of 1985 and in November of 1986 the district court stated that because Rabidue did not display psychological dismay due to the actions in her work environment that it was not a hostile work environment and she could not demonstrate a degree of suffering or injury as a result of the accused abusive and hostile work environment.

The dissenting Judge disagreed that the work environment was void of hostility towards women rather that it was built upon an anti-female environment. He stated that Rabidue, for seven years worked as the sole woman in a salaried management position. It was made apparent that the Vice President Charles Muetzel was very aware that Douglas Henry’s (the supervisor of the company’s keypunch and computer operators) language was greatly upsetting other employees but due to Henry’s specialized knowledge Muetzel did not fire him. After many written complaints Muetzel stated he had talked with Henry. Taking the approach of “fatherly advice” as Muetzel states he claims he spoke with Henry and explain the behavior needed if he eventually wanted to become “an executive type person.” The Judge goes on to explain that if Henry’s behavior was accepted that Rabidue’s behavior in regards to her own defined aggressiveness cannot be treated any differently thus giving weight to her claims of termination due to her sexual orientation. The women employed by the company stated they feared the loss of their jobs if they directly complained in order to back Rabidue’s situation.

Although this case is now dated I believe it is important. It shows the issues that typically women are faced with when seeking the same rights as men in the workplace. Rabidue and her female co-workers did not have a Human Resources Department which complicated the security they felt in their jobs. They could either put up with the obvious sexism present and encouraged in their work environment, or they could speak up and risk hurting their chances in the company or all together which could lead to losing their jobs. The term used in the court documents were that the women found the male behavior to be “annoying”. Annoying is when there is a small rock in your shoe and you need to shake it out, annoying is when you wear a coat in Michigan because its -345 degrees out and by noon you’re sweating because its somehow 75 degrees out now, annoying is when I forget my wallet in my other purse. Being treated socially as a second class citizen because an individual falls under the category of “female” is not annoying, its unjust. An important statement was made in regards to Title VII and its existence which I believe rings true today, “It must never be forgotten that Title VII is the federal count mainstay in the struggle for equal employment opportunity for the female workers in America. But it is quite different to claim that Title VII was designed to bring about a magical transformation in the social mores of American workers.” (Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Co. 1984, p. 6)

Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Co. 1984

Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Co. 1986

 

[WS301 – 4]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *