COSTCO Sued by EEOC for Sex Harassment based on Customer's Advances

posted by Michael R. Fortney  |  Oct 2, 2014 08:58 AM in Employment Law

Retail giant Costco, a multi-billion dollar wholesaler with operations in eight countries, has been violating federal laws by fostering a sexually hostile environment in its stores, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC alleges that "Costco violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees against sex discrimination, when the company failed to take steps to protect one of its female employees from unwelcome advances of one of its warehouse member-customers." Title VII provides that it is "an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex."

The investigation revealed that "the employee repeatedly complained to her managers . . . about being pursued, approached, and confronted in the Costco" by the customer. The actions by the customer created a hostile work environment and amount to sex harassment,. Sex harassment is actionable when it is sufficiently pervasive or severe that it creates an abusive working environment.

The EEOC is in charge of investigating and enforcing violations of federal employment laws by employers, including laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.

According to EEOC guidelines: an employer such as Costco may also be responsible for the acts of non-employees, with respect to sex harassment, where the employer (or its agents or supervisory employees) knows or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

In recent years many courts, including Ohio, have dealt with this issue and determined that whenever the employer knows or should know that their employees are being harassed by fellow employees or anyone else, including customers, it is the duty of the employer to rectify the situation. Failure to do so subjects the employer to liability for violating Title VII.

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