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Helton v. Slumberland Furniture

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 1, 2016


          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Patrick James Helton has filed a complaint against his former employer and several of his former coworkers and supervisors. Plaintiff alleges that a former coworker sexually assaulted him and that defendants retaliated against him after he reported the assault. The court granted plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Dkt. 3.

         The next step is for the court to screen the complaint and dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law cannot be sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. When screening a pro se litigant’s complaint, the court construes the allegations liberally and in the plaintiff’s favor. McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir. 2010).

         After considering plaintiff’s allegations, I will dismiss his complaint for failing to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, and I will direct him to file an amended complaint that clarifies his federal claim.


         I draw the following facts from plaintiff’s complaint.

         It appears that plaintiff and the individual defendants worked for Slumberland Furniture during the events plaintiff describes. In June 2014, plaintiff traveled to Minnesota for job training. On June 8, 2014, defendant Gregory Stump, a coworker, verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted plaintiff; Stump was charged with fifth-degree sexual assault in Ramsey County, Minnesota. The following day, defendant Paige Palmer, assistant general manager, told plaintiff that he should not say anything because she “didn’t want a defamation lawsuit[.]” Dkt. 1, at 3. Slumberland human resources personnel referred the situation to defendant Mary Hesch, the owner, for investigation.

         Several days later, Ramsey County released Stump. Plaintiff texted defendant Palmer and told her that he was “terrified, ” but Palmer responded “he won’t hurt you, he was drunk.” Id. at 4. Plaintiff completed his training and returned to Wisconsin on June 13, 2014, where another Slumberland employee, Robert Sprague, told plaintiff that he had warned defendant Jesse Smith, the general manager, and defendant Hesch about Stump and had cautioned against Stump and plaintiff rooming together during training.

         In July 2014, plaintiff transferred to a new position in sales at the Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Slumberland store. At that time, plaintiff filed a workers’ compensation claim and asked for time off “for healing and counseling.” Id. Defendant Hesch denied the request. Plaintiff mentions that at this point, defendant Hesch had given him permission to make purchases from the store.

         Plaintiff’s complaint is difficult to follow at times, but in August 2014, plaintiff appears to have lost a few of his commissions, for unexplained reasons. Defendant Smith began calling plaintiff at the store to harass him when he made mistakes. At some point, defendant Smith told plaintiff, “we don’t want another Minnesota incident and that is why your [sic] in the Point location.” Id.

         In January 2015, plaintiff caught defendant Hesch going through his personal phone. Hesch threatened plaintiff because she believed that plaintiff was “coming after [her]” for “lots of money.” Id. at 4-5.

         On January 15, 2015, plaintiff was informed that he owed the company over $12, 000 for purchases he made. Again, plaintiff’s story is confusing at times, but it appears that plaintiff denied that he owed that much. Defendants Smith and Hesch forced plaintiff to sign some form-“write ups”-acknowledging the debt, and they threatened to have plaintiff’s daughter taken from him. The following day, plaintiff was terminated for making a purchase without manager approval, although plaintiff maintains that he had defendant Hesch’s approval. Defendants Smith and Ryan Mattson, assistant warehouse manager, then came to plaintiff’s home to repossess much of his furniture. Plaintiff appears to allege that the receipts and paperwork were incorrect, and that defendant Hesch kept incorrect purchase records. Plaintiff was eventually criminally charged with theft.

         Plaintiff concludes his complaint by stating that he brings claims for retaliation for reporting sexual assault, sexual harassment, assault and battery, negligent hiring and retention, PTSD, harassment, failure to file workers compensation ...

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