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Smith v. Rosebud Farm, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 2, 2018

Robert Smith, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Rosebud Farm, Inc., d/b/a Rosebud Farmstand, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued May 29, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:11-cv-09147 - Robert M. Dow, Jr., Judge.

          Before Bauer, Barrett, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          Barrett, Circuit Judge.

         Robert Smith worked behind the meat counter at Rosebud Farm, a local grocery store. After several years of ongoing sexual and racial harassment from his male coworkers and supervisor, Smith sued Rosebud. He claimed various violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Illinois Gender Violence Act. The jury returned a verdict for Smith. Rosebud appeals, maintaining that the district court erred in denying its motions for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial.

         Rosebud argues that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Smith's Title VII sex discrimination claim. To win, Smith had to show more than unwanted sexual touching or taunting; he had to show that the harassment occurred because of his sex. Rosebud contends that Smith's evidence demonstrates that the other men in the shop engaged in "sexual horseplay," not sex discrimination. But Rosebud is wrong about that: the evidence supports the inference that Smith's coworkers harassed him because he was male. The shop was a mixed-sex workplace, and only men were groped and taunted. Because men were treated differently from women at Rosebud, a reasonable jury could conclude that Smith was tormented because of his sex.

         Rosebud also insists that the district court should have awarded it judgment as a matter of law on Smith's § 1981 retaliation claim and granted a new trial because of inflammatory statements that Smith's counsel made during his closing argument. But Rosebud did not raise either of these arguments below, so it has forfeited them. Its challenges to the judgment uniformly fail.

         I.

         In 2003, Robert Smith began working as a butcher at Rosebud Farm, a small grocery store on the south side of Chicago.[1]Smith had been on the job for less than three weeks when his male coworkers behind the meat counter began harassing him by grabbing his genitals and buttocks. Over the next four years, that behavior was consistent, if not constant. At trial, Smith recalled the many times his coworkers groped him, grabbed him, and even reached down his pants. They repeatedly mimed oral and anal sex, both on Smith and on each other. Carlos Castaneda, Smith's supervisor, not only knew about the harassment, but he even participated once or twice. And the group did not stop at aggressive sexual contact- they also targeted him for his race, using racial epithets and telling him "go back to Africa."

         Smith complained about the sexual harassment multiple times to no avail. In January of 2008, he decided that enough was enough. He filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, alleging that his coworkers had sexually harassed him. He also claimed that Castaneda had discriminated against him based on his race by giving him fewer weekly work hours and sending him home for nine days without pay.

         When Castaneda received notice of the discrimination charges, he told the meat-counter employees to stop "goofing off" and quit the "horseplay." Smith's coworkers changed their behavior after their meeting with Castaneda, but not for the better. Behind the meat counter, they banged their cleavers menacingly at him and passed by him with large knives pointing out of the meat trays they carried. Smith found his car-which he parked in the gated, employee-only lot-with slashed tires and a cracked windshield. Smith became increasingly frightened at work, and he quit his job in June 2008 because of the "intolerable" working conditions.

         After the EEOC issued him a Notice of Right to Sue, Smith brought a host of claims against Rosebud and its employees, seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs. Four of Smith's claims went to trial: sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; retaliation under both statutes; and violations of the Illinois Gender Violence Act, 740 ILCS 82/1, by two Rosebud employees, including the general manager, Carlos Castaneda.[2] The jury returned a verdict for Smith on all claims.[3]

         Rosebud raises three issues on appeal. It claims that the district court should have granted it judgment as a matter of law on the sexual harassment claim, because Smith failed to prove that his male coworkers discriminated against him because of his sex. It argues that it was also entitled to judgment on the § 1981 retaliation claim: according to Rosebud, there was no evidence that Smith's coworkers knew that he had filed charges of racial discrimination against Rosebud; thus, they could not have retaliated against Smith for filing them. Finally, Rosebud complains ...


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