A jury has awarded $250,000 in compensation to a former employee of Costco who was harassed and stalked by a customer. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that Costco failed to prevent a male customer from harassing a female employee for over a year, which included unwelcome touching, unwelcome advances and stalking. Although the employee reported the customer’s conduct to Costco management, the store took no effective action to prevent the harassment. As a result, the employee was forced to obtain a restraining order against the customer. The jury unanimously rejected Costco’s arguments that the employee was unreasonably sensitive and that the harassment was not sufficiently sexual.
While the third-party harassment provisions in the Equality Act 2010 have been abolished, a claim could be brought where an employer knows about a customer harassing an employee but fails to prevent it. The employee could argue that the employer’s failure to take any action constituted unwanted conduct related to sex which in turn violated their dignity or created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive working environment.
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