Can I Sue My Boss over a Client’s Inappropriate Behavior?
Your employer’s obligation to keep you safe at work
Are employers legally obligated to intervene when customers behave inappropriately toward employees?
This question was recently considered before a U.S. District Court. In this case, the employer found out that the phrase “the customer is always right” has its limitations.
Let’s take a look at what happened and then discuss what the law says about hostile work environments.
Tatiana Swiderski worked as a sales associate at an Urban Outfitters store in New York City.
Not long after Swiderski started, one of the security employees told her that a male customer had been caught following her and another female employee around the store. As the women walked up the stairs, the man had attempted to take photographs up their skirts.
Swiderski asked if anyone had called the police. The security guard said no but stated that he’d photographed the man’s ID and deleted the photos from his phone. The guard finished the conversation with a lewd comment about Swiderski’s undergarments.
Swiderski spoke to several managers about the incident and was surprised to find out that the “peeping Tom” customer had been a regular visitor to the store. It seemed to be well-known that he often stationed himself under the open staircase in an attempt to look up women’s skirts.
Unsatisfied with the store’s response, Swiderski attempted to get the name of the customer so she could file a police report. The security guard refused to give her the information and told her to “stop being a bitch.”
A few weeks later, a different customer assaulted Swiderski. She quit and sued the company for a allowing a hostile work environment.
Did the Company Do Enough?
The company attempted to have the case thrown out, arguing that it couldn’t be held responsible for customers’ behavior, that it couldn’t have predicted the incidents, and that it had responded appropriately afterwards.
Swiderski’s lawyer argued that the company had been negligent in failing to prevent abusive conduct from reoccurring because the store’s management was aware of the first customer’s behavior.
The court sided with Swiderski. It ruled that there was ample evidence that the employer was aware of the first customer prior to the incident. Swiderski’s case was allowed to proceed to trial.
(The case discussed here is Swiderski v. Urban Outfitters.)
What It Means to Employees
Employers have a duty to protect employees from known harassers—even if those people happen to be customers.
If you’ve been the victim of harassment at work and your employer has failed to address it, it may be time to speak to an attorney.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.