Cochran v. Harrison Finance Company

Filing 31

ORDER granting 23 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Senior Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr on 3/17/2014. (adk)

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IN  THE  UNITED  STATES  DISTRICT  COURT  FOR  THE   SOUTHERN  DISTRICT  OF  ALABAMA   SOUTHERN  DIVISION     BELINDA  KAYE  COCHRAN     Plaintiff,     v.     HARRISON  FINANCE  CO.,     Defendant.         )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )           CIVIL  ACTION  NO.   13-­‐00061-­‐CB-­‐M     OPINION  and  ORDER     This  matter  is  before  the  Court  on  a  motion  for  summary  judgment  filed  by   the  defendant,  Harrison  Finance  Co.    (Doc.  23.)    Plaintiff  has  filed  a  pro  se  response   to  the  motion  (Doc.  28),  Defendant  has  filed  a  reply  brief  (Doc.  29),  and  Plaintiff  has   filed  a  surreply  (Doc.  30).    After  careful  consideration  of  the  issues  raised,  the   applicable  law,  and  the  evidence  submitted  by  the  parties,  the  Court  finds  that  the   motion  is  due  to  be  granted.   Facts     Plaintiff  Belinda  Cochran  was  employed  by  the  defendant,  Harrison  Finance   Company  (Harrison)  on  two  separate  occasions,  August  19,  2002  to  August  5,  2005   and  June  30,  2008  to  December  27,  2011.    Harrison  is  a  wholly-­‐owned  subsidiary  of   Hancock  Holding  Company.    Another  Hancock  Holding  subsidiary,  Hancock  Bank  of   Mississippi,  performs  the  human  resource  functions  for  Harrison  in  Alabama.     Cochran  attended  an  orientation  when  began  her  second  round  of  employment  with   Harrison  as  a  Senior  Manager.    At  that  time,  she  signed  a  document  entitled  “Notice   of  Highlighted  Policies”  indicating  that  she  understood  Harrison’s  discrimination   and  harassment  policy.         That  anti-­‐discrimination/anti-­‐harassment  policy  forbids,  inter  alia,  “[a]ny   discriminatory  employment  action  or  unwelcome  conduct”  based  on  sex.  (Def.’s  Ex.   H,  Doc.  23-­‐10.)    It  specifically  highlights  sexual  harassment  and  describes  various   types  of  behavior  that  constitute  sexual  harassment.    The  policy  sets  out  the   following  procedure  to  reporting  sexual  harassment:     All  associates  are  responsible  to  help  assure  that  we  avoid   discrimination  and  harassment.    If  you  feel  that  you  have  experienced   or  witnessed  any  conduct  that  could  violate  this  policy,  you  are   encouraged  to  notify  any  one  of  the  following:     • Your  supervisor   • Your  department  head   • Your  Employee  Relations  Liaison   • Director  of  Human  Resources.   (Id.)    In  addition,  the  policy  “forbids  retaliation  against  (getting  even  with)  anyone   for  reporting  possible  violations  of  this  policy,  assisting  in  making  a  complaint   cooperating  in  an  investigation,  or  filing  an  EEOC  claim”  and  outlines  a  procedure   for  reporting  retaliation  identical  to  the  sexual  harassment  reporting  procedure.     Further,  the  policy  promises  “to  investigate  all  complaints  .  .  .  thoroughly  and   promptly”  and,  if  a  violation  has  occurred,  to  “take  corrective  action  up  to  and   including  dismissal.”    (Id.)    Cochran  has  also  acknowledged  that  she  was  fully  aware   of  the  company’s  complaint  procedures.     In  2009,  Cochran  was  promoted  to  branch  manager  and  in  that  capacity  was   aware  of  responsibilities  that  included  enforcing  company  policies  and  procedures.     Sheryl  Melton,  a  regional  employee  relations  liaison,  provided  human  resources     2   assistance  as  need  to  branch  management  and  was  assigned  to  Cochran’s  branch.     Cochran  found  Melton  to  be  approachable  and  friendly.    Cochran  could,  and  did,   contact  Melton  directly  via  company  email  or  telephone  to  discuss  personnel  issues.     Melton  also  visited  Cochran’s  branch  on  several  occasions  while  Cochran  was   working  there.         On  August  24,  2011,  Hancock  Holding’s  hotline  received  an  anonymous  call   complaining  about  Jim  McCroan,  President  of  Harrison  Finance  in  Alabama.    The   caller  asserted  that  McCroan  was  engaging  in  acts  of  immorality,  displays  of   unwanted  affection,  was  promoting  unqualified  individuals  and  was  having  an  on-­‐ going  affair  with  a  current  employee.    As  a  result  of  the  call,  Melton  and  Mary  Ann   Wilkerson,  Hancock  Banks’  Regional  Human  Resource  Manager,  began  an   investigation  into  McCroan.    Between  September  and  December,  Melton  and   Wilkerson  interviewed  more  than  a  dozen  past  and  present  employees  about   McCroan.         On  December  12,  2011,  Melton  and  Wilkerson  visited  Cochran’s  branch  as   part  of  their  investigation  of  McCroan.    Cochran  was  aware  of  the  purpose  of  the   visit  in  advance,  and  she  knew  she  was  expected  to  tell  the  truth  during  the   interview.    During  a  three-­‐hour  interview,  Cochran  was  asked  whether  she  had  ever   witnessed  anyone  any  management  touching  women  in  an  inappropriate  manner.     At  that  point,  Cochran  began  to  cry  because  she  believed  co-­‐workers  perceived  that   she  and  McCroan  were  having  an  affair.    When  one  of  the  interviewers  asked  why   people  might  have  that  impression,  Cochran  responded  that  they  may  have  gotten   the  wrong  impression  when  McCroan  had  touched  or  rubbed  her  shoulders  or     3   patted  her  on  the  leg.    Cochran  did  not  say  anything  to  Melton  and  Wilkerson  about   having  sexual  relations—either  consensual  or  nonconsensual—with  McCroan.   As  result  of  the  investigation,  Harrison  terminated  Jim  McCroan’s  employment  on   December  16,  2011.     On  December  27,  2011,  Wilkerson  and  Melton  again  met  with  Cochran,  this   time  about  photographs  found  on  her  company  computer.    In  October  2011,  a   vendor  discovered  three  pornographic  photographs  on  Cochran’s  computer  while   attempting  to  recover  a  hard  drive.    The  vendor  reported  the  photographs  to  Tom   Vickerman,  Harrison’s  manager  of  desktop  services.    When  the  vendor’s  technician   told  Vickerman  he  had  also  reported  the  photos  to  “Sheryl”,  Vickerman  assumed  he   meant  “Sheryl  Melton”  in  Human  Resources.    But  the  technician  made  the  report  to   someone  named  “Cheryl”  in  IT.    Thus,  Human  Resources  did  not  learn  about  the   photographs  until  December  21,  2011.      As  it  turns  out,  two  of  the  photographs  were   of  Cochran  herself,  taken  in  the  company  bathroom.    One  is  a  torso  shot  in  which  she   is  wearing  only  a  bra  and  panties.    The  other  is  a  photo  of  her  genitalia.  The  third   photo  was  a  nude  male  identified  as  DW.    When  Wilkerson  and  Melton  asked   Cochran  if  she  had  downloaded  any  her  pictures  onto  her  hard  drive,  she  initially   denied  it.    After  seeing  the  evidence,  she  admitted  that  she  was  the  person  in  the   photos.    Cochran  was  terminated  for  uploading  the  photographs  onto  the  company   computer.1                                                                                                                   1  Wilkerson  and  Melton  subsequently  discovered  that  Cochran  had,  in   violation  of  company  policy,  used  her  company  email  account  to  send  photos  of   herself  to  DW  and  had  received  DW’s  photo  in  response.       4     Cochran  filed  a  charge  of  discrimination  with  the  Equal  Employment   Opportunity  Commission  (EEOC)  on  June  14,  2012.      In  that  charge,  which  she   signed  under  penalty  of  perjury,  Cochran  alleged  the  following:   I  was  hired  in  2008  by  the  Respondent  as  a  Senior  Branch  Manager.     In  June  2011  I  was  promoted  to  the  position  of  Centralized  Mortgage   Manager.    On  December  27,  2011,  Sheryl  Melton  (Assistant  Vice   President  Employee  Relations  Liaison)  terminated  my  employment.    I   believe  I  was  discriminated  against  because  of  my  sex.     On  December  13,  2011,  I  complained  to  Melton  and  Mary  Ann   Wilkerson  (Regional  Manager,  Human  Resources)  that  I  felt   uncomfortable  with  Jim  McCroan  (President,  Harrison  Finance   Company)  inappropriately  rubbing  my  shoulders  and  patting  me  on   my  legs.    The  Respondent  reported  I  was  terminated  due  to  the   pornographic  pictures  loaded  on  to  my  work  Computer.    The  pictures   were  discovered  in  October  2011,  but  I  was  not  fired  until  after  I   complained.     I  believe  I  have  been  retaliated  and  discriminated  against  in  violation   of  the  Title  VII  of  the  Civil  Rights  Act  of  1964,  as  amended.     (Pl.’s    Rsp.,  Ex.  C,  Doc.  28.)     The  EEOC  issued  a  right-­‐to-­‐sue  notice  on  November  15,  2012.    On  February   7,  2013,  Cochran  filed  the  instant  action,  pro  se,  against  Harrison  Finance.    The  form   complaint  asserts  claims  of  “Gender  discrimination,  Sexual  Harassment,  [and]   Retaliation”  in  violation  of  the  Title  VII  of  the  Civil  Rights  Act  of  1964  (Title  VII),  42   U.S.C.  §  2000e.    (Compl.  1,  Doc.  1.)    The  complaint  alleges  that  Cochran  was  “verbally   and  physically  sexually  harassed  by  the  President  of  Harrison  Finance  Company,  Jim   McCroan[,]”  that  she  reported  this  harassment  on  December  11,  2011,  that  McCroan   was  terminated  on  December  16,  2011  (with  benefits  and  a  severance  package),  and   that  Cochran  was  terminated  on  December  27,  2011  without  warning  and  in   retaliation  for  speaking  out  and  was  denied  unemployment  benefits.    (Id.  3.)         5     After  this  lawsuit  was  filed,  in  response  to  a  discovery  request,  Cochran   informed  counsel  for  Harrison  that  Jim  McCroan  had  forced  her  to  have  sex  with  him   on  eight  different  occasions  between  April  2010  and  October  2011.    This  was  the   first  time  Cochran  informed  the  defendant  about  sexual  relations  between  McCroan   and  herself.    Prior  to  this  revelation,  Cochran’s  only  report  of  inappropriate   behavior  was  that  McCroan  touched  or  rubbed  her  on  the  shoulders  or  leg,  and  that   report  was  in  response  to  questioning  by  Wilkerson  and  Melton  during  their   investigation.    See  discussion,  supra,  at  2-­‐3.    According  to  her  declaration  in   opposition  to  summary  judgment,  Cochran  “was  going  through  a  bad  divorce  .  .  .  and   was  afraid  to  tell  anyone”  about  the  rapes  and  also  feared  that  she  would  lose  her   job  if  she  reported  McCroan  “because  [she]  had  already  been  warned  by  the  District   Manager  at  the  time  [and  others]  about  the  close  friendship  Mr.  McCroan  had  with   Human  Resources  and  many  superiors  at  Hancock  Bank.”    (Pl.’s  Decl.,  Ex.  C  to  Pl.’s   Surreply,  Doc.  30.)     Issues  Raised     Harrison  has  moved  for  summary  judgment  on  the  two  claims  clearly   identified  in  Plaintiff’s  pro  se  complaint:    (1)  gender  discrimination  based  on  hostile   work  environment  sexual  harassment  and  (2)  retaliation.2                                                                                                                   2  The  complaint  states  that  Harrison  denied  Plaintiff’s  claim  for     “unemployment  benefits”  and  also  states  that  the  company  approved  McCroan’s   unemployment  benefits  and  “he  received  a  large  severance  package.”    (Comp.  3.)     Although  neither  party  has  stated  as  much,  this  could  be  construed  as  an  additional   gender  discrimination  or  retaliation  claim.    Cf.  Robinson  v.  Shell  Oil  Co.,  519  U.S.  337   (1997)  (post-­‐employment  actions  can  qualify  as  “adverse  employment  action”   under  Title  VII’s  anti-­‐retaliation  provision);  McGuiness  v.  Lincoln  Hall,  263  F.3d  49   (2nd  Cir.  2001)  (holding  disparate  treatment  in  severance  pay  actionable  under  Title   VII).    However,  as  Harrison  points  out  in  its  summary  judgment  motion  (albeit  with     6   Legal  Analysis     Summary  Judgment  Standard     Summary  judgment  should  be  granted  only  if  "there  is  no  issue  as  to  any   material  fact  and  the  moving  party  is  entitled  to  a  judgment  as  a  matter  of  law."       Fed.  R.  Civ.  P.  56(c).    The  party  seeking  summary  judgment  bears  "the  initial  burden   to  show  the  district  court,  by  reference  to  materials  on  file,  that  there  are  no  genuine   issues  of  material  fact  that  should  be  decided  at  trial."    Clark  v.  Coats  &  Clark,  Inc.,   929  F.2d  604,  608  (11th  Cir.  1991).    Where  the  moving  party  also  has  the  burden  of   proof  at  trial,  “that  party  must  show  affirmatively  the  absence  of  a  genuine  issue  of   material  fact:  it  must  support  its  motion  with  credible  evidence  ...  that  would  entitle   it  to  a  directed  verdict  if  not  controverted  at  trial.”  United  States  v.  Four  Parcels  of   Real  Property,  941  F.2d  1428,  1438  (11th  Cir.  1991)    Once  the  moving  party  has   satisfied  his  responsibility,  the  burden  shifts  to  the  nonmoving  party  to  show  the   existence  of  a  genuine  issue  of  material  fact.    Clark,  929  F.2d  at  608.       "In  reviewing  whether  the  nonmoving  party  has  met  its  burden,  the  court   must  stop  short  of  weighing  the  evidence  and  making  credibility  determinations  of   the  truth  of  the  matter.    Instead,  the  evidence  of  the  non-­‐movant  is  to  be  believed,   and  all  justifiable  inferences  are  to  be  drawn  in  his  favor.”    Tipton  v.  Bergrohr  GMBH-­‐ Siegen,  965  F.2d  994,  999  (11th  Cir.  1992)  (internal  citations  and  quotations   omitted).    “However,  we  draw  these  inferences  only  “’to  the  extent  supportable  by                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             respect  to  the  hostile  work  environment  claim),  a  civil  complaint  is  “limited  by  the   scope  of  the  EEOC  investigation  which  can  reasonably  expected  to  grow  out  of  the   charge  of  discrimination.”    Gregory  v.  Ga.  Dep’t  of  Human  Res.,  355  F.3d  1277,  1280   (11th  Cir.  2005).      Consequently,  because  no  claim  for    (or  related  to)  disparate   treatment  or  retaliation  based  on  severance  pay  was  asserted  in  the  EEOC  charge,   no  such  claim  would  be  actionable  here.     7   the  record.’”  Penley  v.  Eslinger,  605  F.3d  843,  848    (11th  Cir.  2010)  (quoting  Scott  v.   Harris,  550  U.S.  372,  381  n.  8  (2007)  (emphasis  omitted)).      Furthermore,  “[a]   dispute  over  a  fact  will  only  preclude  summary  judgment  if  the  dispute  “might  affect   the  outcome  of  the  suit  under  the  governing  law.”  Id.  (quoting  Anderson  v.  Liberty   Lobby,  Inc.,  477  U.S.  242,  248,  (1986)).     Hostile  Work  Environment/Sexual  Harassment     Harrison  argues  that  it  is  entitled  to  summary  judgment  on  Cochran’s  hostile   work  environment  claim  for  several  reason:    (1)  the  claim  is  barred  because  the   harassment  took  place  more  than  180  days  prior  to  the  date  the  EEOC  charge;  (2)   the  scope  of  EEOC  charge  did  not  include  the  sexual  harassment  claims  alleged  in   this  lawsuit;  and  (3)  Cochran  unreasonably  failed  to  use  the  company’s  complaint   procedure  to  report  the  sexual  harassment.    The  Court  need  not  address  the  first   two  arguments  because  it  is  clear  that  the  company  had  a  reporting  procedure  in   place,  that  Cochran  knew  about  the  procedure,  and  that  she  unreasonably  failed  to   utilize  it.     Title  VII  prohibits  an  employer  from  discriminating  against  an  individual   “with  respect  to  compensation,  terms,  conditions,  or  privileges  of  employment   because  of  [  ]  race,  religion,  sex  ,  or  national  origin.”      42  U.S.C.  §  2000e-­‐2(a)(1).       “[S]exual  harassment  so  ‘severe  or  pervasive’  as  to  ‘alter  the  conditions  of  [the   victim’s]  employment  and  create  an  abusive  working  environment’  violates  Title   VII.”    Faragher  v.  City  of  Boca  Raton,  524  U.S.  775,  786  (1998)  (quoting  Meritor   Savings  Bank,  FSB  v.  Vinson,  477  U.S.  57,  67  (1986)).    An  employer  may  be,  but  is  not   always,  liable  for  hostile  work  environment  created  by  one  of  its  employees.  In  two     8   companion  cases,  Burlington  Indus.,  Inc.  v.  Ellerth,  524  U.S.  742  (1998)  and  Faragher   v.  City  of  Boca  Raton,  524  U.S.  775  (1998),  the  Supreme  Court  defined  the  contours   of  an  employer’s  liability.   An  employer  is  subject  to  vicarious  liability  to  a  victimized  employee   for  an  actionable  hostile  environment  created  by  a  supervisor  with   immediate  (or  successively  higher)  authority  over  the  employee.   When  no  tangible  employment  action  is  taken,  a  defending  employer   may  raise  an  affirmative  defense  to  liability  or  damages,  subject  to   proof  by  a  preponderance  of  the  evidence,  .  .  .  The  defense  comprises   two  necessary  elements:  (a)  that  the  employer  exercised  reasonable   care  to  prevent  and  correct  promptly  any  sexually  harassing  behavior,   and  (b)  that  the  plaintiff  employee  unreasonably  failed  to  take   advantage  of  any  preventive  or  corrective  opportunities  provided  by   the  employer  or  to  avoid  harm  otherwise.  While  proof  that  an   employer  had  promulgated  an  antiharassment  policy  with  complaint   procedure  is  not  necessary  in  every  instance  as  a  matter  of  law,  the   need  for  a  stated  policy  suitable  to  the  employment  circumstances   may  appropriately  be  addressed  in  any  case  when  litigating  the  first   element  of  the  defense.  And  while  proof  that  an  employee  failed  to   fulfill  the  corresponding  obligation  of  reasonable  care  to  avoid  harm  is   not  limited  to  showing  an  unreasonable  failure  to  use  any  complaint   procedure  provided  by  the  employer,  a  demonstration  of  such  failure   will  normally  suffice  to  satisfy  the  employer's  burden  under  the   second  element  of  the  defense.  No  affirmative  defense  is  available,   however,  when  the  supervisor's  harassment  culminates  in  a  tangible   employment  action,  such  as  discharge,  demotion,  or  undesirable   reassignment.     Ellerth,  524  U.S.  at  765-­‐66;  Faragher,  524  U.S.  at  807-­‐08.     Harrison  asserts  that  it  has  satisfied  its  burden  as  to  this  affirmative  defense   because:  (1)  the  harassment  perpetrated  by  McCroan  did  not  result  in  any  tangible   employment  action  against  Cochran:  (2)  the  company  had  an  adequate  anti-­‐ harassment  policy  in  place  and  once  it  received  a  complaint  it  took  prompt   corrective  action  and  (3)  Cochran  unreasonably  failed  to  utilize  the  complaint   procedures  set  out  in  that  policy.    There  is  no  dispute  as  to  the  first  element  of  the   affirmative  defense.    Cochran’s  termination  was  unrelated  to  the  alleged     9   harassment,  and  she  suffered  no  demotion,  loss  of  pay  or  benefits,  change  in   working  conditions,  or  any  other  type  unfavorable  employment  action  as  a  result  of   McCroan’s  harassment.      As  to  the  Harrison’s  effort  to  prevent  harassment,  a   company’s  anti-­‐harassment  policy  is  adequate  if  it  is  effectively  disseminated  and   the  policy’s  reporting  procedures  allow  “alternative  avenues  for  lodging  a  complaint   other  than  a  harassing  supervisor.”      Madray  v.  Publix  Supermarkets,  Inc.,  208  F.3d   1290,  1298  (11th  Cir.  2000).    There  is  no  question  that  the  anti-­‐harassment  policy   was  adequately  disseminated  in  this  case.    Furthermore,  Cochran  admits  that  she   knew  and  understood  the  policy,  which  encouraged  victims  to  come  forward  and   provided  multiple  avenues  for  lodging  a  complaint.    In  that  respect,  the  policy  is   similar  to  those  sexual  harassment  policies  found  reasonable  by  the  Eleventh   Circuit.      Madray,  id.  at  1299  (policy  sufficient  under  Ellerth/Faragher  where   complaint  procedures  that  did  not  require  victim  to  report  complaint  to  supervisor   or  through  supervisor’s  chain  of  command  and  provided  other  avenues  of   reporting);  Coats  v.  Sundor  Brands,  164  F.3d  1361,  1364  (11th  Cir.  1999)  (per   curiam)  (policy  required  employees  to  report  harassment  to  their  manager,   personnel  department,  or  other  manager  with  whom  employee  felt  comfortable).         Cochran  did  not  use  the  company’s  complaint  procedures  to  report   McCroan’s  harassment.    She  attempts  to  justify  her  failure  to  report,  pointing  out   that  she  feared  retaliation  since  she  had  been  told  that  McCroan  was  close  to  the   people  in  Human  Resource.    However,  “[e]very  employee  could  say  .  .  .  that  she  did   not  report  the  harassment  earlier  for  fear  of  losing  her  job  or  damaging  her  career   prospects.    .  .  .  [T]he  Supreme  Court  undoubtedly  realized  as  much  when  it  designed     10   the  Faragher/Ellerth  defense,  but  it  nonetheless  decided  to  require  an  employee  to   make  the  choice  [to  report  the  harassment]  if  she  wanted  to  impose  vicarious   liability  on  her  employer.”    Baldwin  v.  Blue  Cross  Blue  Shield  of  Alabama,  480  F.3d   1287,  1307  (11th  Cir.  2007);  accord  Walton  v.  Johnson  &  Johnson  Servs.,  Inc.,  347  F.3d   1272,  1290-­‐91  (11th  Cir.  2003)  (subjective  fears  of  reprisal  do  not  excuse  failure  to   report  harassment).     When  Harrison  did  receive  an  anonymous  report  about  McCroan’s   inappropriate  behavior,  it  took  prompt  action.    First,  Melton  and  Wilkerson  began   an  investigation  which  lasted  over  three  months,  not  an  unreasonable  amount  of  in   this  situation.3    When  the  investigation  was  concluded,  the  company  took  prompt   remedial  action  by  terminating  McCroan’s  employment.     In  summary,  Harrison  has  submitted  undisputed  evidence  that  it  had  an   adequate  anti-­‐harassment  policy  in  place  and  that  Cochran  was  familiar  with  that   policy  and  with  the  procedures  for  reporting  sexual  harassment.    Because  Cochran   unreasonably  failed  to  report  McCroan,  the  company  cannot  be  held  vicariously   liable  for  McCroan’s  actions.4                                                                                                                       3  The  defendant  has  not  provided  much  information  about  the  scope  of  the   investigation,  except  to  provide  notes  of  interviews  of  various  employees.     According  to  information  provided  in  plaintiff’s  summary  judgment  response,   Harrison  Finance  has  33  branches.    Cochran  implies  that  the  three-­‐month  period   between  the  anonymous  report  and  McCroan’s  termination  was  too  long  to  be   considered  prompt  remedial  action.    In  light  of  McCroan’s  position  in  the  company,   the  number  of  branches  (and  employees)  under  his  supervision,  and  the  very   serious  nature  of  the  charges,  a  three-­‐month  investigation  is  not  unreasonable.   4  Cochran  insists  that  she  did  report  that  McCroan  touched  her   inappropriately  when  she  was  interviewed  on  December  12,  2011.    Assuming  this  to   be  true,  McCroan’s  termination  four  days  later  qualifies  as  prompt  remedial  action.         11     Retaliation     Title  VII’s  anti-­‐retaliation  provision  makes  it  unlawful  for  an  employer  to   retaliate  against  an  employee  because  the  employee  (1)  opposed  an  unlawful   employment  practice  under  Title  VII  or  (2)  participated  in  an  investigation  under   Title  VII.    42  U.S.C.  §  20003-­‐3(a).    The  precise  contours  of  Plaintiff’s  retaliation  claim   are  not  well  defined.    The  claim  may  possibly  be  based  on  both  her  participation  in   the  investigation  of  McCroan  during  the  December  12th  interview  and  on  her   opposition  to  sexual  harassment,  i.e.,  her  statement  during  that  interview  that   McCroan’s  inappropriately  rubbed  her  shoulders  and  touched  her  leg.         The  Court  evaluates  a  Title  VII  retaliation  claim  based  on  circumstantial   evidence  using  the  shifting  burdens  framework  of  McDonnell  Douglas  Corp.  v.  Green,   411  U.S.  792  (2008).    Crawford  v.  Carroll,  529  F.3d  961,  976  (11th  Cir.  2008).    First   the  plaintiff  must  establish  a  prima  facie  case  of  discrimination.    Id.  If  she  does  so,   the  defendant  must  articulate  a  legitimate  nondiscriminatory  reason  for  its  decision.     Id.    Once  a  defendant  articulates  a  legitimate  nondiscriminatory  reason,  the  burden   shifts  back  to  the  plaintiff  to  show  that  the  stated  reason  was  a  pretext  for   discrimination.    Id.    Pretext  means  that  the  proffered  reasons  were  not  what  actually   motivated  the  defendant’s  decision.    Id.         In  this  case,  the  Court  need  not  decide  whether  Cochran  could  prove  a  prima   facie  case  of  retaliation  because  Harrison  Finance  has  asserted  a  legitimate   nondiscriminatory  reason  for  terminating  her  employment—the  pornographic   photographs  found  on  her  computer.    Cochran  points  out  that  there  was  a  two-­‐ month  time  lapse  between  the  discovery  of  the  photos  and  her  termination.    This     12   gap  between  discovery  and  termination  is  not  evidence  of  pretext,  however,  because   the  photos  were  not  immediately  reported  to  Human  Resources.    According  to   Defendant’s  uncontroverted  evidence,  the  photos  were  discovered  by  a  vendor  who   reported  them  to  “Cheryl”  in  the  IT  department,  rather  than  “Sheryl”  in  Human   Resources.    Consequently,  Human  Resources  did  not  know  about  the  photos  until   December  2011,  shortly  before  Cochran’s  termination.       Conclusion     For  the  foregoing  reasons,  the  Court  finds  that  the  motion  for  summary   judgment  is  due  to  be  and  hereby  is  GRANTED.         DONE  and  ORDERED  this  the  17th  day  of  March,  2014.                                   s/Charles  R.  Butler,  Jr.       Senior  United  States  District  Judge   13  

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