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Wilcox v. Corrections Corporation of America

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 25, 2018

FELICIA A. WILCOX, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA, a.k.a. McRae Correctional Facility, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 1:11-cv-04365-ODE

          Before TJOFLAT, ROSENBAUM, and BRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          BRANCH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Felecia[1] Wilcox sued her employer, Corrections Corporation of America, for sexual harassment resulting in a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. At trial, she testified that she had complained to the company that her coworker had sexually harassed her, but the company failed to take prompt remedial action. The jury found in Wilcox's favor and awarded damages, but the district court later granted judgment as a matter of law for the company. Wilcox appeals and argues that the jury was entitled to find that the company failed to act promptly on her complaints. Because we disagree, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In reviewing a judgment as a matter of law, we consider the facts in the light most favorable to Wilcox. See Bogle v. Orange Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 162 F.3d 653, 656 (11th Cir. 1998). Wilcox worked as a corrections officer at McRae Correctional Facility, a federal prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. On July 10, 2009, Wilcox's coworker[2] Larry Jackson slapped her on the buttocks twice. Wilcox filed a formal complaint with the company that same day. The company told Jackson not to associate with Wilcox or be anywhere around her.

         In the days following Wilcox's complaint and the company's admonition not to associate with Wilcox, Jackson repeatedly rolled his eyes at Wilcox and once punched a metal machine in her presence to intimidate her. On July 23, Wilcox submitted a second complaint in which she reiterated that Jackson had hit her buttocks on July 10, adding that she was afraid he would touch her again, that this was not the first time that he had touched her, and that he had told her he could touch her if he wanted to. Wilcox concedes, however, that Jackson never touched her or made any inappropriate comments to her after her July 10 complaint.

         The company brought in an outside investigator to look into these and other complaints against Jackson. On August 27, the investigator interviewed Wilcox, who told her about two additional times before July 10 that Jackson had sexually harassed her. On one occasion, Jackson squeezed her thigh and stated that he could touch her "juicy, fat thighs" if he wanted. On the other occasion, Jackson made a sexually explicit remark. On September 9, the investigator submitted her report finding that Jackson had sexually harassed Wilcox and other coworkers. On September 14, the company fired Jackson.

         Wilcox later filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, [3] and she filed this lawsuit against the company under Title VII. The district court granted the company's motion for summary judgment on Wilcox's sexual harassment claim, but we reversed because a triable issue of fact existed about whether the harassment was severe or pervasive.[4] Wilcox v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 603 Fed.Appx. 862, 865-66 (11th Cir. 2015). On remand, a jury trial was held. The jury returned a verdict for Wilcox of $4, 000 in actual damages and $100, 000 in punitive damages. The company then renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law, which the district court granted, finding that the company's prompt remedial action in response to Wilcox's complaints barred liability as a matter of law. Wilcox again appeals.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We review a district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law de novo. Bogle, 162 F.3d at 656. We view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in Wilcox's favor, id., and we may affirm only if we conclude that "a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis" to find for her, Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1).

         III. DISCUSSION

         To prevail in a suit against her employer for a fellow employee's sexual harassment that resulted in a hostile work ...


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