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CoreCivic’s Actions Against Sexual Harassment Compel Reversal of Jury Verdict

by David Reutter

 The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Georgia federal district court’s grant of judgment of law for Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, in a lawsuit alleging it failed to take prompt remedial action against sexual harassment.

Felecia Wilcox worked for CCA’s federal prison, McRae Correctional Facility. She filed a formal complaint with CCA that alleged her co-worker, Larry Johnson, slapped her on the buttocks twice. CCA told Jackson not to associate with Wilcox or be anywhere around her.

In the days that followed that July 10, 2009, complaint, Jackson repeatedly rolled his eyes at Wilcox and once punched a machine in her presence to intimidate her. Wilcox filed a second complaint on July 23, reiterating the July 10 claim and stating she feared Jackson would touch her again, that he had touched her previously, and that he said he can touch her if he wanted to.

CCA brought in an outside investigator, who interviewed Wilcox. That investigator heard that two additional times Jackson had sexually harassed Wilcox and had made a sexually explicit remark on another occasion. The investigator also interviewed 16 other employees and learned that Jackson had sexually harassed several of them. CCA fired Jackson on September 14, 2009.

After receiving a notice of right to sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Wilcox filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The matter proceeded to trial after an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, which resulted in finding a triable issue of fact existed about whether the harassment was severe or pervasive. See: Wilcox v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 603 F. Appx 862 (11th Circ. 2015). The jury returned a verdict in Wilcox’s favor and awarded her $4,000 in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

After the district court granted CCA’s motion for judgment because CCA’s prompt remedial action in response to Wilcox’s complaint barred liability, Wilcox appealed. At issue on appeal was CCA’s knowledge and action.

The Eleventh Circuit found it was undisputed that Jackson did not sexually harass Wilcox after she filed her July 10 complaint, which is the date the parties agreed CCA had actual knowledge of such conduct by Jackson. As CCA had had in place and followed it sexual harassment policy, it could not be liable under a constructive knowledge theory.

The court then found CCA’s action in response to the complaint was effective. While it may have taken time to investigate the matter, the Eleventh Circuit said “there were a lot of moving parts in the company’s investigation.” It concluded that CCAs “prompt remedial action against Jackson” would prevent a reasonable jury from finding CCA was liable for his sexual harassment of Wilcox. The district court’s order was affirmed. See: Wilcox v. Corrections Corporation of America, __ F.3d __ (11th Cir. 2018)

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Related legal case

Wilcox v. Corrections Corporation of America