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Hunt v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 26, 2019

Tristana Hunt, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued May 23, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 16 C 05924-Charles R. Norgle, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Manion, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

          Bauer, Circuit Judge.

         Tristana Hunt worked the overnight shift in the electronics department of a Wal-Mart store and Daniel Watson was her supervisor. After Watson made several unprofessional remarks toward Hunt over a four-month period, Hunt filed a complaint with human resources. Wal-Mart promptly investigated the claims but was unable to substantiate them. Hunt then filed a complaint in federal court alleging Watson sexually harassed her by creating a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At summary judgment, the district court held that Wal-Mart established the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense to liability because it reasonably prevented and corrected sexual harassment, and Hunt unreasonably delayed in reporting the harassment. We agree and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Before Watson and Hunt worked together on the night shift, Watson worked as a supervisor on the day shift. While working on the day shift Watson was accused of sexually harassing an individual he supervised, Toyanna Campbell. Campbell filed a complaint on October 24, 2012, which informed human resources that Watson had told Campbell he liked her several times. After she said she did not like him he closed the door and window to his office, put his hand on her arm, and refused to let go of her until she screamed. Watson was provided with a written "coaching" for the conduct described in the complaint. "Coaching" is the Wal-Mart equivalent of being written up and is intended to provide instruction and assistance when an employee's performance is not up to Wal-Mart's standards.

         On November 7, 2012, Campbell filed another complaint alleging Watson had acted inappropriately. According to the complaint he asked her what perfume she was wearing, complimented her on her "musk," implied that she liked him when she called him to the front of the store, informed her that he was single and asked if she was single, told her he was looking for a girlfriend, and told her he really liked her. In response to this incident, Wal-Mart provided Watson with a second written coaching and moved him to the overnight shift.

         Hunt met Watson for the first time during a shift in May 2013. Watson came up to her and asked her why she was wearing a particular shirt, saying that he could see her breasts, and then commented that he did not understand how a woman could have breasts so large despite having a small body. Hunt was uncomfortable and walked away from the incident to avoid further comments. About a month later, Watson walked up behind Hunt while she was bending over, stood close to her, and made another comment about her breasts. Hunt told him that his comments were inappropriate and again walked away. This time Watson followed her and told her he wanted to shower with her and feel her breasts.

         On June 25, 2013, Hunt showed Watson a picture of a fallen tree on her phone to explain that inclement weather had caused her to miss the previous workday. Watson took the phone from her hand and indicated he was looking through it for naked pictures. Hunt asked him to stop and took her phone back. Watson replied that he would not excuse her absence and again asked when he could see her breasts.

         In late August Watson made similar offensive comments towards Hunt and in mid-September, Watson asked to see Hunt's breasts several times within a few days. On September 27, 2013, after Hunt refused another advance, Watson gave her written coaching for not working her scheduled shifts and cited her June 24 absence as one such absence. Immediately following this formal discipline, Hunt decided to report Watson's harassment to the store manager, Mark Turner, at the end of her shift.

         Hunt asked Turner for a complaint form when he arrived for his shift. This was the first time Hunt informed Turner of any issues between her and Watson. When Turner asked Hunt if she knew of any witnesses, she told him to ask around about Watson's behavior. Turner collected the complaint from Hunt and provided it to human resources. Later that day, human resources informed Turner that he needed to complete an investigation into Hunt's complaint. Turner opened an investigation immediately and interviewed Watson eight days later. Watson denied making any sexual comments towards Hunt. Turner concluded Hunt's claims could not be substantiated without corroborating witnesses. Nonetheless, he required Watson to retake the company's ethics training course which included anti-harassment training. Watson completed the course on November 6, 2013. Hunt reported no incidents of harassment following the discipline.

         Hunt filed a complaint in federal court on June 7, 2016, and an amended complaint on July 1, 2016. Hunt alleged she was subjected to a hostile work environment by being sexually harassed on a daily basis for five months. Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment arguing that Watson's actions did not create a hostile work environment or in the alternative that Wal-Mart had established an affirmative defense to liability as a matter of law. The district court admitted it was "unable to determine whether Plaintiff suffered a hostile work environment claim," but granted summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart, holding it had proved the affirmative defense outlined by the Supreme Court in Burlington Indus, v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998), and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998). Because we agree, we affirm.

         II. ...

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