A federal jury in December awarded $250,000 to a former Costco employee who had to file a restraining order against a male customer who was harassing and stalking her.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that oversees and enforces employment anti-discrimination laws, had accused Costco of failing to stop a man who shopped at the warehouse store from touching, making advances and stalking a female employee. The abuse lasted well over a year, the EEOC reported on its website, and the worker feared for her safety.
The employee reported the touching, harassment and stalking to her supervisors. However, the EEOC said, Costco managers didn’t address the problem and instead simply let the harassment and stalking continue. The employee ultimately felt forced to obtain a restraining order in an attempt to prevent the man from bothering her so she could continue to do her job and feel safe while doing it.
The EEOC, and ultimately the federal jury in Chicago, maintained that Costco violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires an employer to take reasonable steps to maintain a workplace free of harassment based on a person’s sex, among other things.
The jury of eight men and women disagreed with Costco’s defense. The retailer’s attorneys said the employee was “unreasonably sensitive” to harassment and that it was not “sufficiently sexual,” the EEOC reported. Costco even spent $125,000 on a psychiatrist whose testimony aimed to discredit the employee.
“Today’s verdict reinforces EEOC’s commitment to protecting every woman’s right to a safe, secure, and fair workplace,” said Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District. “It sends a clear message to employers that they cannot sit idly by when their employees are harassed in the workplace.”
The federal prosecutors who handled the case said it was a reminder that employers are legally obligated to provide their workers with a safe, harassment-free workplace. They said they hope it encouraged employees across the country to stand up to sexual harassment in the workplace, whether it’s from a colleague or a member of the public.
Employers must ensure that all of their employees are protected, instead of waiting until a restraining order is the only answer, EEOC lawyers said.
Sexual harassment can happen anywhere — even California. If you feel that are being sexually harassed, stalked or threatened at work, it’s important that you seek the advice of a Sacramento sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible.
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