Do I Have To Put Up With Sexual Harassment By A Customer?

symbol picture for sexual abuse

An AOL Jobs reader asks:

My question is I work in a doctor's office. We have a patient that comes in, and his dad comes in with him. His dad has made sexual comments to me and has taken videos of me when he comes in without my knowledge. I have found out this patient is a sex offender. I am worried about the females that work in our office about their safety. I have reported this to management in our office, they have pretty much swept this under the carpet told me I should not have a conversation with our patients. My concern is how many patients has this dad recorded.

So your employer knows that you're being sexually harassed by a sex offender in the office, and they aren't taking any steps to protect you from him? Stupid employer.

Your employer has a duty to keep a safe workplace, free of sexual harassment. That means not only do they have to make sure you aren't sexually harassed by coworkers or your boss, but also by patients or customers.

In a recent case where a customer reached over a counter and groped a sales associate on camera, the employer was liable to the tune of $485,000 when it instructed employees the customer could not be excluded from the premises and allowed him to continue his disgusting behavior directed at three female employees. EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado said this about the case: "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."

In an early case on sexual harassment by non-employees, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals explained:

We now hold that an employer may be held liable for sexual harassment on the part of a private individual, such as the casino patron, where the employer either ratifies or acquiesces in the harassment by not taking immediate and/or corrective actions when it knew or should have known of the conduct. See Trent, 41 F.3d at 526 (where employer hires outside trainer to train its employees, a function often carried out by company supervisors, and outside trainer harasses employees, company may be liable under Title VII); Powell v. Las Vegas Hilton Corp., 841 F.Supp. 1024, 1028 (D.Nev.1992) (where employer egregiously mishandled employees repeated complaints about harassment from casino customers, employer either ratified or was complicitous in the harassment); 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(e) (employers may be liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by nonemployees "in the workplace, where the employer ... knows or should have known of the conduct, and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.").

Similarly, where an employee was discharged after being sexually harassed by an important customer and objecting to the employer's instruction to keep the customer happy, the employer was justifiably slapped in court.

Bottom line is that, because your employer knows of the sexual harassment and is doing nothing about it, you may have a strong sexual harassment claim. I'd suggest contacting EEOC or an employment lawyer in your state about your rights.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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