Non-Employee Sexual Harassment: Are Employees Liable When A Customer Harasses Another Customer?

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Most employers, aware of their legal liability, implement policies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. But are you responsible when one of your customers harasses another customer? Following the sexual harassment of an NFL football player on a United Airlines' red eye flight, that question is about to go before the Los Angeles courts. 

Sexual Harassment by Non-employees

Sexual harassment lawyers have clearly established that an employer has a duty to ensure a harassment-free workplace. But what happens when a caretaker is the victim of sexual harassment in the home of the client, a freight driver is harassed when he makes his weekly fuel pickups, or a waitress is groped by drunken patrons?

These cases have clarified employee liability for non-employee sexual harassment. In all three, the failure of management was failing to take immediate corrective actions after allegations were brought to their attention. If the employer knows of the sexual harassment, or should have known, and fails to take remedial actions, they can be held liable for the sexual harassment of their employees by non-employees. 

In cases in which the customer has undue financial influence over the employer, another important qualification is worth pointing out. In the case of the waitress (Lockard v. Pizza Hut), liability was found if the "employer ratifies or acquiesces in the customer's demand." Similar lawsuits have included a bar patron who was also a financial backer and a client of a consulting firm. 

Sexual Harassment Among Customers 

In the case of the NFL player, two men were groped and four complaints made before the offending passenger was moved to another seat. Sexual harassment on flights is a federal crime, and therefore warrants decisive remedial action.

The two main charges against United Airlines are that the airline failed to have procedures in place to protect customers from sexual harassment. Additionally, if those policies do indeed exist, the airline failed to enforce them. Two flight attendants were also charged in the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, the experience of the football player is not an isolated event. The number of sexual assaults on flights increased 66 percent from 2014 to 2017, according to FBI records.

While the courts have yet to rule on customer-on-customer harassment, copycat suits are sure to follow. Employers can protect their duty to prevent sexual harassment by putting sexual harassment policies and training in place for both management and workers. Harassment attorney services provide guidance on implementing harassment policies to prevent lawsuits. To avoid United Airlines' predicament, training should include how to stop and manage a sexual harassment event in progress. 

For more information on what to do in the case of harassment, talk to harassment attorney services in your area.


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