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Charest v. Sunny-Aakash, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

September 20, 2017

RUTH C. CHAREST and JENNIFER N. KUFRIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUNNY-AAKASH, LLC, agent of Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Spring Hill, and JAYPRAKASH PANJABI, individually, also know as Jay Panjabi, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES S. MOODY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendant Sunny-Aakash, LLC's Dispositive Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 37) and Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition (Dkt. 44). The Court, having reviewed the motion, response, record evidence, and being otherwise advised in the premises, concludes that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, Defendant's motion is granted to the extent that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' race and national origin claims. Defendant's motion is denied with respect to Plaintiffs' sexual harassment and retaliation claims-these claims will be resolved by the trier of fact.

         BACKGROUND

         This is an action brought by Plaintiffs Ruth Charest and Jennifer Kufrin against their former employer, Sunny-Aakash, LLC, that owns and operates a Holiday Inn Express Hotel in Spring Hill, Florida (hereafter referred to as “Sunny-Aakash” or “Defendant”), and against Jayprakash Panjabi, Holiday Inn's general manager during the relevant time.[1] Panjabi is also an owner of Sunny-Aakash. Charest and Kufrin allege the following claims against Sunny-Aakash based on Panjabi's treatment of them during their employment: claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 for discrimination and harassment because of race and national origin (Count I of the Second Amended Complaint); claims of sexual harassment under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) (Count II of the Second Amended Complaint); and claims of retaliation under the FCRA (Count III of the Second Amended Complaint).

         Sunny-Aakash moves for summary judgment on the entirety of Plaintiffs' claims. The facts, accepted in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the non-movants, now follow with respect to each Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff Ruth Charest:

         In April of 2013, Panjabi, an Indian male, hired Charest, a Filipino female, to work in Sunny-Aakash's housekeeping department. Charest worked for Sunny-Aakash from April 2013, until late May 2016. Charest was subjected to the supervision, authority, and control of Panjabi during her employment. Panjabi determined Charest's rate of pay, the number of hours she worked, and her job assignments. He had complete firing authority. When Panjabi trained Charest on the hotel's policies, including policies on sexual harassment, he told her to contact him directly to report any issues. Panjabi frequently told Charest that he was her boss and that he owned the hotel.

         The record reflects that throughout her three years of employment at Sunny-Aakash, Panjabi threatened Charest that if she did not give him oral sex and have sexual intercourse with him, she would lose everything-her job, her family, her husband-and she would be sent back to the Philippines. Panjabi frequently told Charest that she should be willing to have sex with him because she was Filipino. Charest was afraid of Panjabi, who is a very strong and intimidating man. Charest is a small woman, less than five feet tall.

         According to Charest, Panjabi forced Charest to give him oral sex throughout her employment. She testified that he would frequently call her into a vacant hotel room, under the guise of requesting that she clean the room, and then he would pull down his pants, take out his penis, and tell her to give him oral sex. He would grab her by the head and push it down on his penis. Although Charest told Panjabi no and tried to reject him, she gave into his demands because she was scared of Panjabi and could not risk losing her job.

         Panjabi would also corner Charest in the hotel's laundry room and force her to give him oral sex. Charest testified that she constantly told Panjabi that she did not want to give him oral sex but he would threaten to fire her if she did not give in to his sexual demands. Panjabi also demanded that Charest have sexual intercourse with him. According to Charest, he would wait until they were alone in a hotel room, grab Charest's breasts, remove her clothes, and then force himself on her.

         The record reflects that Charest had frequent coerced oral sex and sexual intercourse with Panjabi throughout her employment. After the sexual incidents, Panjabi would threaten Charest that if she reported his behavior she would be in “big trouble.” Panjabi told Charest that he was powerful and could do anything he wanted, including terminating her and preventing her from finding another job. Panjabi also said that there was no one at the hotel who was above him; he was the “big boss.”

         Charest testified that on one occasion Panjabi forced her to have sexual intercourse with Panjabi and his friend “Kevin.” The men forced Charest to give them oral sex and then took turns having sexual intercourse with her.

         Panjabi also forced Charest and Plaintiff Jennifer Kufrin to kiss each other and then engage in group sex with him. Panjabi took turns having sex with the women.

         The record reflects that Panjabi told Charest that because she was Filipino she should be willing to provide sex to Indian men who he said were superior.

         In early May of 2016, Charest decided that she was finished giving into Panjabi's sexual demands. Charest testified that she felt more powerful knowing that Kufrin, who Panjabi was also sexually abusing, was a witness. Before that, she felt like she would not be believed because she was in housekeeping and Panjabi was powerful.

         In late May of 2016, Panjabi demanded that Charest give him oral sex. Charest refused. Panjabi started yelling at her and Charest slapped him on his face. Panjabi then terminated her. According to Charest, Panjabi terminated her because she refused to give him oral sex.

         Plaintiff ...


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