Employer Sued for Customer’s Harassment of Employees

Employers spend a great deal of time trying to prevent harassment and discrimination by managers, supervisors, and co-workers in the workplace. Too often, though, employers forget about the outsiders that can cause the employer liability. Vendors, customers, clients, delivery persons, and other third parties can be the source of harassment or discrimination claims. The law holds employers responsible to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct harassment or discrimination toward employees, regardless of the source. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued Fred Meyer Stores, Inc. alleging it did not prevent sexual harassment or respond properly to complaints of such made by its female employees. EEOC v. Fred Meyer Stores, Inc. (D. Or. 2014). Seven female employees alleged that a male customer repeatedly subjected them to lewd remarks and physical touching and that the conduct went on for years. When the employees complained, management told them that it could not bar the customer from the premises unless security personnel witnessed the inappropriate conduct. 

The company settled the case for $487,500, and promised to comply with a number of EEOC guidelines as part of the settlement. 

This case reminds employers to respond appropriately to claims of sexual harassment or discrimination by third parties. Practical options include, but are certainly not limited to, barring a customer from the premises, contacting a delivery person’s employer, voiding a vendor’s contract, or addressing client harassment personally. Whatever the chosen course, employers must be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to harassment or discrimination from outsiders.