Employers must Protect Workers from Sexual Harassment by Customers

Employers must Protect Workers from Sexual Harassment by Customers

The Fourth Circuit just reinstated a case on behalf of worker who was routinely sexually harassed  while on a customer’s premises.  The trial court, together with the employer, told the employee that it was his fault.  He did not provide enough details about the harassment, preventing the employer from taking corrective action.

Not so fast, according to the appeals court.  Contrary to the summary disposition by the lower court, the appeals court saw plenty of evidence in the record.  The employee demonstrated that he complained early and often, but he was told that the harassers were joking; that he should stop whining; and that because of his complaints his company “could lose everything.”  After he complained to the EEOC, the company offered him a different shift with lower pay, which conflicted with the employee’s childcare responsibilities.  He was fired for not taking the changed shift.

The Fourth Circuit held that an employer “is liable if it knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take appropriate actions to halt it.”  The unanimous response from the management was to belittle his concerns and not ask questions.  It went on to repeat its rule that “claims of harassment could not be avoided through the adoption of a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ strategy.”  It also refused to require adherence to the requirement that claims be reported only to the company president, given the size of the company.

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