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Out-of-line! Take action when customers harass employees

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If an employee complains about harassment, take the complaint seriously, even if the harasser is a customer. Ban the customer to make sure the harassment stops—and call the police if the harassment involves touching or invasion of privacy.

Recent case: Tatiana was a salesperson at the Urban Outfitters store in Manhattan. A member of the security staff told Tatiana that he had caught a man photographing up her skirt as she walked up the stairs.

The security guard stopped the customer, wrote down his identity, deleted the pictures from his phone and threw him out of the store. However, he didn’t call the police to report the invasion of privacy, even though this wasn’t the first time the man had been caught peeping at female clerks. Tatiana complained to a supervisor, but nothing happened.

A few weeks later, another customer groped Tatiana in the store. The security guard detained the man, but then simply escorted him out of the building.

Tatiana eventually figured out the name of the first customer and filed a complaint with the police. Soon after, Tatiana found herself assigned to the late shift, working in the stockroom. She quit and sued, alleging a sexually hostile work environment, sexual harassment and retaliation.

She argued that management was on notice that the first customer had already taken pictures and therefore it should have done more to protect her. Plus, she argued that simply letting the customer who physically assaulted her walk out of the store wasn’t effective or reasonable.

The court agreed that Tatiana had a harassment case and ordered a trial. It concluded that because management may have been on notice, it might be liable for subsequent harassment. (Swiderski v. Urban Outfitters, No. 14-CV-6307, SD NY, 2015)

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