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Employer’s Action Saves it From a Jury’s Verdict

Felicia Wilcox sued her employer, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), alleging sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. While working as a corrections officer for CCA, a co-worker slapped her rear end on two occasions. She complained. CCA instructed the alleged harasser to stay away from her. The co-worker responded by repeatedly rolling his eyes at her and hitting a machine near her. Feeling threatened, she complained again. An outside investigator was brought in to investigate her complaints and other similar complaints against the co-worker. Ms. Wilcox reported some additional harassing incidents during the investigation, all of which occurred prior to her first complaint. The co-worker was fired at the conclusion of the investigation.
The case went to a jury, which rendered a verdict of $4,000 in compensatory damages as well as $100,000 in punitive damages against CCA. Via post-trial motion, CCA argued that it could not be liable for sexual harassment as a matter of law because it had taken prompt and remedial action following the complaint. The district court agreed and set aside the jury’s verdict.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals accepted Ms. Wilcox’s appeal for review. CCA could only be held liable for the harassing conduct of a non-supervisory employee “if it knew or should have known of the harassing conduct but failed to take prompt and remedial action.” Ms. Wilcox was unable to show that the company had knowledge of the co-worker’s harassing conduct prior to her first complaint. It was undisputed that the company had a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy. Ms. Wilcox filed a complaint in accordance with that policy, the co-worker was investigated and then terminated. CCA’s action in response to the complaints was found by the circuit court to be effective at preventing the harassment and conducted with sufficient promptness. Thus, a reasonable jury could not have found the company liable for the sexual harassment.