STAHL, Senior Circuit Judge.
Plaintiff-appellant Allison Forrest appeals from a district court's order affirming a recommended decision by a magistrate judge granting summary judgment in favor of Brinker International Payroll Company LP D/B/A Chili's Grill & Bar ("Chili's"). Forrest's complaint alleged that Chili's, her former employer, exposed her to a hostile work environment created by the sexually harassing behavior of her co-worker and former paramour Mike Vashaw, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Maine Human Rights Act ("MHRA"). The magistrate judge's recommended decision found as a matter of law that Vashaw's actions did not constitute sexual harassment pursuant to Title VII because they were not "based upon her sex" and that in any case Chili's was not liable for Vashaw's behavior because it took prompt and appropriate action in response. The district court affirmed and adopted the magistrate judge's recommended decision. We find sufficient evidence in the record to establish that Vashaw's harassment of Forrest was based upon her sex, but affirm the grant of summary judgment to Chili's on the grounds that its response was prompt and appropriate.
As befits an appeal from summary judgment, we review the facts in the light most favorable to Forrest, drawing all inferences in her favor. See Velazquez-Garcia v. Horizon Lines of P.R., Inc., 473 F.3d 11, 14 (1st Cir.2007).
Forrest and Vashaw continued to see each other socially after the October 2004 incident and engaged in intimate relations as late as January 2005. In March of 2005 Forrest began dating another man, Jeremy Gregor. Vashaw, apparently upset by Forrest's new relationship, questioned Forrest frequently about Gregor, began to call her names such as "whore" and "bitch," and refused to give her things that she needed in the kitchen. In early March 2005, Forrest complained about Vashaw to the restaurant's general manager Claude Hadjaissa; however, she told Hadjaissa that she did not want Vashaw to be fired. Hadjaissa investigated the complaint and gave Vashaw an oral warning to "stop, and behave as a professional" or "circumstances will take place."
Forrest alleges that Vashaw's verbal abuse continued unabated throughout March 2005, and that she and other co-workers witnessed Vashaw calling her names such as "whore," "slut," "bitch," and "cunt." At the end of March 2005, Forrest complained to the kitchen manager Craig Twombly that she was upset with Vashaw's handling of her food orders, that he was calling her names, and that he was talking to other employees about her. On March 27, Twombly issued a final written warning to Vashaw, directing him to "stop all negative confrontations with other employees," instructing him that he must correct the problem "immediate[ly]; there will be no other warnings on this matter," and informing him that failure to comply would result in "immediate termination." Twombly and Hadjaissa informed Forrest that Vashaw had been given a written warning and asked her to let them know if his inappropriate behavior continued.
On April 13, 2005, Forrest reported to Hadjaissa that on the previous night Vashaw had squirted her with hot water while she was making a personal phone call, had acted rudely towards her, had cornered her in a walk-in cooler, called her a whore and other names, as well as telling her she was fat and needed to go to the gym. Hadjaissa terminated Vashaw after he admitted that he had told Forrest she was fat and needed to go to the gym, though he denied calling her a whore.
After Vashaw was terminated, Forrest obtained first a temporary and then a permanent restraining order against him. Forrest also initiated a meeting with the Chili's area director, Jonathan Witham. Witham told Forrest that Vashaw would not be allowed on the premises when she was working, but that Chili's could not prevent him from entering the premises when she was not in the building. Forrest resigned from her position on May 14, 2005.
The record also demonstrates that Chili's has an anti-sexual harassment policy, a copy of which was provided to Forrest when she began her employment there. Among other things, the policy prohibits derogatory or sexual comments, making threats after a sexual advance is rejected, and certain types of inappropriate physical
This court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Wojcik v. Mass. State Lottery Comm'n, 300 F.3d 92, 98 (1st Cir.2002). Summary judgment is appropriate where the evidence shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating "against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).
Crowley v. L.L. Bean, Inc., 303 F.3d 387, 395 (1st Cir.2002). This appeal focuses on the third and sixth prongs of the test; that is, whether the harassment was "based upon sex" and whether, even if so, Chili's may be held liable. We consider each point in turn.
The magistrate judge found that Forrest did not proffer sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable factfinder to conclude that Vashaw's inappropriate behavior towards Forrest was harassment based on her sex, as required by Title VII, rather than on personal animosity stemming from their failed relationship.
In cases involving a prior failed relationship between an accused harasser and alleged victim, reasoning that the harassment could not have been motivated by the victim's sex because it was instead motivated by a romantic relationship gone sour establishes a false dichotomy. Presumably the prior relationship would never have occurred if the victim were not a member of the sex preferred by the harasser, and thus the victim's sex is inextricably linked to the harasser's decision to harass. To interpret sexual harassment perpetrated by a jilted lover in all cases not as gender discrimination, but rather as discrimination "`on the basis of the failed interpersonal relationship' . . . is as flawed a proposition under Title VII as the corollary that `ordinary' sexual harassment does not violate Title VII when the [ ] asserted purpose is the establishment of a `new interpersonal relationship.'" Babcock v. Frank, 729 F.Supp. 279, 288 (S.D.N.Y.1990)(internal citations omitted). Whether a harasser picks his or her targets because of a prior intimate relationship, desire for a future intimate relationship, or any other factor that draws the harasser's attention should not be the focus of the Title VII analysis. Instead, improper gender bias can be inferred from conduct; if the harassing conduct is gender-based, Title VII's requirement that the harassment be "based upon sex" is satisfied.
The magistrate judge conceded that "retribution after a failed romantic relationship" may rise to the level of Title VII harassment, but found that "[i]n this case, while the language Vashaw is alleged to have directed toward the plaintiff was certainly gender-specific . . . [Forrest] does not proffer evidence of sexual advances by Vashaw, physical touching of a sexual nature or the type of activities found by the [Lipphardt v. Durango Steakhouse of Brandon, Inc., 267 F.3d 1183 (11th Cir. 2001)] court to have the potential to cross" "A raft of case law, however, establishes that the use of sexually degrading, gender-specific epithets, such as "slut," "cunt," "whore," and "bitch," with which Vashaw barraged Forrest at work, has been consistently held to constitute harassment based upon sex." See, e.g., Winsor v. Hinckley Dodge, Inc., 79 F.3d 996, 1000-01 (10th Cir.1996) (finding it "beyond dispute" that
There is no analytically defensible reason to draw a line in the sand in "failed relationship" cases between this type of sexually harassing conduct and sexual advances, physical touching, or any other conduct that has been held to be harassment based on sex pursuant to Title VII.
Thus the record below establishes that a reasonable jury could conclude that Vashaw's behavior towards Forrest was based on her sex.
The parties do not dispute that Vashaw was Forrest's co-worker, not her supervisor. "A plaintiff must satisfy different standards for establishing employer liability in a hostile work environment case depending on whether the harasser is a supervisor or co-employee of the victim." Crowley, 303 F.3d at 401. In this Circuit, in order to establish employer liability for a non-supervisory co-employee, "a plaintiff must demonstrate that the employer `knew or should have known of the charged sexual harassment and failed to implement prompt and appropriate action.'" Id. (quoting White v. N.H. Dept. of Corr., 221 F.3d 254, 261 (1st Cir.2000)); see also Arrieta-Colon
Drawing all factual inferences in favor of Forrest, it is evident that there is sufficient evidence in the record for a reasonable jury to conclude that Chili's knew or should have known of the harassment. Forrest complained about Vashaw's behavior to her managers on at least three occasions and specified that he was calling her names, including "whore." Furthermore, Vashaw spouted his verbal abuse openly in the kitchen, in front of Forrest and other employees; indeed, evidence submitted by Chili's establishes that the managers who investigated Forrest's complaints spoke with other employees who confirmed Vashaw's inappropriate behavior.
Liability attaches to Chili's, however, only if it failed to take "prompt and appropriate action" in response to Forrest's complaints. Forrest argues on appeal that the magistrate judge erred in determining that the remedial action taken by Chili's met this standard as a matter of law. Forrest asserts that the magistrate judge based this legal conclusion on erroneous fact-finding, creating a genuine issue of material fact as to the number of times Forrest or other employees complained to Chili's about Vashaw's harassing behavior. The following facts, however, are undisputed: 1) Chili's had adopted and implemented a policy prohibiting sexual harassment and had trained its managers to take disciplinary action against offenders, "which may include reprimand, suspension, or termination if warranted"; 2) Vashaw's harassment of Forrest occurred over a period of four to six weeks from March to mid-April 2005; 3) Forrest initially told Chili's that she still cared about Vashaw and did not want him to be fired; 4) Chili's knew that Forrest and Vashaw had been embroiled in a tempestuous, on-again, off-again relationship; and 5) Chili's investigated Forrest's complaints and took remedial action against Vashaw three times, issuing an oral warning in mid-March, delivering a written warning in late March,
Determining what constitutes a "prompt and appropriate" employer response to allegations of sexual harassment often requires the sort of case-specific, fact-intensive analysis best left to a jury. However, given the undisputed facts here, no reasonable jury could conclude that Chili's response was not prompt and appropriate. Whether Forrest complained to the restaurant managers only three times, as Chili's asserts, or a few more times, as Forrest asserts, Chili's response was reasonably prompt and appropriate considering the particular facts of this case. Faced with allegations of sexual harassment between ex-lovers known to have a volatile relationship, Chili's acted reasonably in addressing Forrest's complaints with progressive discipline of Vashaw, giving Vashaw an opportunity to correct his behavior, and ultimately firing him when he did not do so, within a month of the first warning.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the summary judgment order of the district court.