Employer’s failure to stop harassment by customer leads to $250,000 jury award
Harassment & Discrimination
A federal appeals court confirmed a jury award of $250,000 against a grocery store whose female employee was stalked by a male customer at work. The employer ordered the customer to avoid the employee, but failed to ensure the customer complied.
For the next 13 months, the customer continued following the employee around the store where she worked, attempting to get her phone number, taking her picture, touching her, watching her, and continuing to attempt to engage her in conversation, even asking her at one point if he “freaked her out.”
The employee again reported the conduct to her manager, who had actually witnessed some of the behavior. The employee asked if she could park closer to the building because she was afraid of the customer, but the store denied her request. She finally obtained a Stalking No Contact Order against him, and soon went out on unpaid medical leave. She was terminated after exceeding 12 months of medical leave.
Discrimination in a Sexually Hostile Work Environment
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued her employer, alleging it had discriminated against the employee because of her sex by allowing a sexually hostile work environment to exist. A jury determined that the employer hadn’t done enough to protect its employee from the obsessed customer, and the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed (EEOC v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 7th Cir, Sept., 2018).
Tips for Employers
Required to Take Action to Stop Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to take steps reasonably likely to stop harassment. As an employer, this means you must not only investigate complaints and mete out appropriate consequences, but also follow through to ensure the behavior actually stops. This is more complicated when the offending party is a customer, vendor, or other business associate, but it is essential to do so. Check in periodically with the employee and encourage them to report any new incidents so you can adjust your strategy if needed.
Employment Law Resources
If you are a Vigilant member, contact your Vigilant employment attorney for guidance on how to properly handle harassment complaints. For more information, see Vigilant’s Legal Guide, Harassment in the Workplace: Avoiding Liability.
For related articles, non-members can access the harassment and discrimination section of our blog. We offer a variety of training programs for supervisors, including a California Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. Learn more about our legal HR courses.
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