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Perry v. Harris Chernin

October 6, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 95 C 1127 -- Charles R. Norgle, Sr., Judge.

Before COFFEY, MANION, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.



Felicia Perry worked as a cashier for Harris Chernin, Inc., which owns and operates a chain of 13 "Chernin's" shoe stores throughout the Chicagoland area. For roughly 14 months she worked at Chernin's Roosevelt Road store where she claims she was sexually harassed by the store's manager, John Jackson. She received a trial on her claims of sexual harassment and constructive discharge, but at the close of all the evidence at trial the district court entered judgment as a matter of law for Chernin's. Because Chernin's had no reason to know about the alleged harassment until Perry quit and then complained, we affirm the district court.


Perry was hired in January 1993 to work as a display person at Chernin's Roosevelt Road store on the near southwest side of Chicago. On her first day, she was reassigned to work as a cashier, a position she held until her last day at Chernin's in April 1994. During this period, her immediate supervisor was George Karnia, who managed the handbag counter at the shoe store. Karnia reported to John Jackson, the store manager, who in turn reported to Mickey Reynolds, the general manager of retail operations.

At trial, Perry claimed that during her 14-month tenure at Chernin's, Jackson made sexually harassing remarks to her. Though Jackson denies making any harassing comments to Perry, for purposes of reviewing the directed verdict Perry's version of events is the one we accept. Deimer v. Cincinnati Sub-Zero Products, Inc., 58 F.3d 341, 343 (7th Cir. 1995). The first incident occurred more than six months into her employment (in July or August 1993) when Jackson commented to Perry, "You know you want me, don't you?" Approximately two months later, Jackson called Perry into his office ostensibly to discuss her performance. After commenting on her absenteeism, Jackson said, "By the way, [in] your interview, I saw your breasts. I saw your nipples. . . . You wore a low-cut blouse, and I could see your breasts, and I knew your nipples were hard." In the fall of 1993 Jackson told Perry he would "beat [her] with the stick [her] husband used," from which she inferred that he wanted to have sex with her. Around the same time Jackson commented to Perry that she never smiled, and further remarked, "If you had woke up with me in your bed this morning, you would be smiling right now." He made a similar remark in January 1994. On other occasions, he asked her if she was a "screamer" in bed and commented that she wore her clothes well.

It is undisputed that Perry never reported any of Jackson's comments to anyone at Chernin's, including Chernin's management. It also is undisputed that Chernin's had published policies against sexual harassment in the workplace. One policy appeared in the employee handbook Chernin's issued to Perry when she started work. Perry was familiar with the policy, which directed an employee "to report any form or suspicion of harassment immediately to [her] manager or directly to the Director of Human Resources or the Executive Vice President." In addition to the handbook, Chernin's distributed a pamphlet elaborating on the harassment policy and instructing employees to "promptly report unwelcome harassment" to one (or more) of four corporate officers, including Dan Naslund, the Director of Human Resources. Further still, the company addressed sexual harassment in at least three employee meetings, one of which was specially convened in early 1993 to discuss the issue. Perry received a sexual harassment "primer" during the special meeting, but she never read it. *fn1 At trial, she recalled that the employees were told at the meeting to report any sexual harassment to Dan Naslund, who was in attendance, and who visited Perry's store about twice per week while Perry worked there. During those visits, Naslund never witnessed any harassment of Perry, nor was he ever approached by her concerning Jackson's behavior.

Perry finally did complain about Jackson's behavior, but not until after she quit her job. She quit on April 24, 1994, following an incident in which Jackson reprimanded her for chewing gum and receiving a personal phone call at work (both are violations of work rules, though Perry claims the rules are not consistently enforced). It was Perry's first day back at work in two to three weeks after recovering from injuries sustained by her husband's physical abuse. As a result of Jackson's reprimand, incidents occurring in Perry's last year of employment "crashed down on [her]." She gathered her purse, left the store, and never returned.

Two or three days later, Perry called Dan Naslund, but she reached only his voicemail. After several attempts at reaching Naslund (she did not leave a message), she called Mickey Reynolds and told him that Jackson had sexually harassed her "on a daily basis." Reynolds' contemporaneous notes of that conversation (he wrote down what he considered "most important") reflect three comments attributed to Jackson by Perry: "Do you scream?"; "You need a man in your bed"; and "You need a husband." According to Perry, Reynolds stated that it would be Perry's word against Jackson's, but that he would investigate. Reynolds told Perry that Naslund should also be involved in the investigation, and asked Perry to visit the corporate office to meet with Naslund. He further suggested that Perry work at another store while they investigated her complaint. Perry agreed that she would come to the office to meet with Naslund, but she never did. Nor did she take up Reynolds' offer of employment at a different store.

Reynolds and Naslund each spoke with Jackson about Perry's complaint; Jackson denied making any inappropriate remarks. They also spoke with counter manager Karnia, who once "joked" to one of his workers that if she did not do an assigned task he would "sic Felicia's husband on [her]." Perry overheard the remark, and Reynolds later reprimanded Karnia for having made it. Karnia told Naslund that he had never heard anyone, including Jackson, make inappropriate remarks to Perry. Based on his conversations with Jackson and Karnia, and on what Perry apparently had told Reynolds, Naslund concluded that "this was not a sexual harassment situation," a conclusion which (from Chernin's perspective) closed Perry's case.

But it did not close the case as far as Perry was concerned. She filed suit in the district court claiming sexual harassment and constructive discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e et seq. She survived a motion for summary judgment brought by Chernin's, and even the company's motion for a directed verdict after she completed her case before the jury. But Chernin's renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law after it completed its own case, and this time the district court agreed, citing no evidence "to show that [Chernin's] had reason to know of the misconduct, and further, that [it] unreasonably failed to take appropriate corrective action." So we have a full trial record before us (with the exception of closing arguments), ...

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