Are Employers Liable For A Customer’s Sexual Harassment Of An Employee?
Federal and state labor laws protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is often associated with unwelcome sexual advances from managers or co-workers. But an employer may also be liable for failing to take appropriate corrective action when a third party–such as customer–sexually harasses employees who report such conduct.
Las Vegas Hotel Faces Trial Over Customer Sexually Propositioning Manicurist
A recent decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Fried v. Wynn Las Vegas, LLC, provides an example of such liability. The plaintiff in this case was a male who worked as a manicurist at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. One day, a male customer entered the salon and received a pedicure from the plaintiff. During the pedicure, the customer propositioned the plaintiff. Initially, the customer wanted the plaintiff to come to his hotel room and massage him with oil. When the plaintiff declined, the customer then made “an explicit sexual proposition,” according to court records.
The plaintiff said he immediately reported this to a manager at the salon’s front desk. The plaintiff said he was uncomfortable continuing with the customer’s pedicure. But the desk manager instructed the plaintiff to finish the procedure and “get it over with.” The plaintiff said the customer continued to make “inappropriate sexual references” during the process.
After the customer left, the plaintiff again attempted to speak with the desk manager about the incident. About a week later, a coworker spoke to the plaintiff and said he “should not be upset about the incident and should instead take it as a compliment.”
The plaintiff subsequently filed a Title VII lawsuit against the employer, pointing to this and other alleged incidents of sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination in the workplace. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit. On appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit reinstated the claims related to the alleged sexual harassment by the customer.
As the Ninth Circuit explained, “an employer’s response to a third party’s unwelcome sexual advances toward an employee can independently create a hostile work environment.” By not taking “immediate corrective action” to deal with the customer’s harassment–and in fact insisting the plaintiff continue to subject himself to said harassment–the Ninth Circuit said a jury could conclude the employer created a “hostile work environment.”
To be clear, the Ninth Circuit did not address the merits of the plaintiff’s case. It simply held the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defense on this particular issue. At this stage of the litigation, the question is whether the plaintiff has submitted sufficient evidence to submit a case to a jury. Here, the Ninth Circuit said the plaintiff met that threshold.
Contact California Employee Lawyer Karen J. Sloat Today
If you have been subject to a hostile work environment or any other form of harassment, it is important that you seek timely professional advice on asserting your legal rights. To speak with a qualified Riverside County employee claims attorney, contact the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APCtoday.