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Hostile Work Environment Harassment

A hostile environment can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.

Examples of behaviors that may contribute to an unlawful hostile environment include:

  • displaying sexually suggestive or racially insensitive pictures;


The employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.


Way back on September 15, 2011 we wrote about an 84 year old retail customer in Oregon hanging out near the employee time clock in a large grocery chain's store repeatedly groped three female employees – sometimes multiple times daily. One of the employees unsuccessfully complained to management to ban the customer from the store. The EEOC thereafter filed a lawsuit on behalf of the employees, alleging that the employer created a sexually hostile work environment.

Now we have learned that the same store will pay $487,000 to seven of its Oregon workers to settle the action (this is the retailer's second settlement with the EEOC in just over five years, and we are not quite sure whether this settlement relates to the 2011 case — but it is substantially similar at a minimum). The EEOC found that female employees "were sexually harassed by the same customer from at least 2007. The man visited the store almost daily, and often several times a day, and he would make lewd comments to employees and customers, in addition to grabbing employees, cornering them, touching their breasts, and pulling one employee onto his lap."

One plaintiff said that "I was terrorized at work and so stressed worrying about what would happen when this customer came into the store." Guess that this is the hallmark of "hostile work environment."

Once again, an attorney for the EEOC provided the takeaway: "Employers are responsible for ensuring a harassment-free workplace for their employees, regardless if the harasser is a co-worker, manager or customer. There should be no tolerance for repeat offenders and serial harassers."



Have a great day!