Based on the facts presented in the scenario below, how do you think the court ruled on this employment law case?
Service specialist Clarisse Jones was loaded for bear as she barged into supervisor Audra McNichols’s office.
“Our creepy customer is at it again,” Clarisse fumed. “He was sitting in the waiting room, and as I passed by he pulled me onto his lap. I can’t work in these conditions. What are you going to do about that pervert?”
What they did
Audra sighed. “I thought we had taken care of the problem. We decided that you wouldn’t ever have to serve him by yourself,” she said. “We gave you permission to go get a co-worker if you were ever alone when he came in. And I personally asked him to mind his manners.”
“I know,” Clarisse said, calming down a little. “I hoped that would do the trick. But today he ambushed me before I could go get Marilyn to come out of the back office.”
Affecting her work
“Something else has got to be done,” Clarisse said. “This situation is affecting my ability to do my job.”
“I don’t know what else we can do,” Audra said. “I can’t bar him from the premises — he’s one of our biggest customers. If I could, I’d transfer you to another service center, but I don’t think there are any openings right now.”
Eventually, Clarisse quit, claiming the customer was making her life at work intolerable. And she sued the company for tolerating a sexually hostile work environment.
Did she win?
Yes, Clarisse got a federal appeals court to agree that her case was strong enough to go to trial. That was a blow for Audra’s company, which now has to face a jury or settle with Clarisse out of court.
The problem wasn’t that Audra did nothing to protect Clarisse from the harassing customer. It was that she apparently didn’t do enough. When Clarisse told her that the customer had continued to bother her despite the safeguards that had been put in place, Audra should have made it a priority to find other ways of stopping him from engaging in harassment.
Harassment of an employee by an outside party like a delivery person, vendor, or customer is a tough situation for a supervisor to deal with, because business relationships may be at risk. Best bet: Involve HR and/or upper management. They’re well placed to balance the business considerations and the employee’s right to be free of harassment.
Cite: Aguiar v. Bartlesville Care Center, No. 10-5002, 10th Cir., 4/18/11. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.
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