Generally, co-worker harassment doesn’t mean liability for the employer if the employer had no reason to know about the behavior. But if one of the co-workers has some degree of control over the employee he harassed, courts may conclude that supervisor liability applies.
Recent case: Rhonda Johnson, who is black, worked as a corrections officer in an Atlantic County jail. A co-worker who wasn’t her official supervisor was in charge of controlling access to various sections of the jail. One day, he refused to open the door to the section Johnson patrolled after she told him she needed to use the bathroom. Johnson urinated on herself.
Johnson sued, alleging harassment.
The court agreed, reasoning that her employer could be held responsible for harassment by a co-worker who controlled aspects of her workplace. (Johnson v. Atlantic County, et al., No. 07-4212, DC NJ, 2010)