A federal Court of Appeals has affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a former Costco employee in connection with her claim of a hostile work environment based upon sexual harassment by a customer. This case reaffirms that an employer can be held legally responsible for allowing a hostile work environment created by non-employees if the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to render the employee’s work environment hostile.
In the matter of EEOC v. Costco Wholesale Corp., the EEOC sued on behalf of a former Costco employee, Dawn Suppo. Ms. Suppo was initially employed as a seasonal, part-time employee in 2009 and then became a regular, part-time employee in May, 2010. Around the time she became a regular employee, a customer named Thad Thompson began approaching Ms. Suppo and asking her personal questions that her uncomfortable. Initially, Ms. Suppo did not report the interactions to her supervisor or other management. However, in or about July/August, 2010, the conduct did not stop and Ms. Suppo informed her supervisor of Mr. Thompson’s harassing conduct and the fact that she was scared of him. Her supervisor instructed her to notify him if she sees Mr. Thompson again.
Soon thereafter, Ms. Suppo noticed Mr. Thompson in the store again watching her through the store aisles. Ms. Suppo reported to her supervisor that Mr. Thompson was back in the store stalking her and that she was scared of him. As a result, Ms. Suppo’s supervisor and other management brought Mr. Thompson into the warehouse office and instructed him to leave Ms. Suppo alone. Mr. Thompson responded with anger and loudly yelled that it is a “free country” and that he had “freedom of speech.” Ms. Suppo was extremely scared at this point and decided to call the police and file a report. Later that day, the one of the Costco Assistant Managers yelled at Ms. Suppo for calling the police and instructed her to be nice to Mr. Thompson.