Employees Can Sue Employers Over Harassment From Third Parties In the Workplace

In early February, a Missouri state court jury awarded a Jackson County woman a $2.5 million dollar judgment against AutoZone, where she works as a cashier.  Her story, and the seven figure verdict that resulted from it, presents a grave warning for employers.

The employee reported that she was routinely harassed on the job by two customers over a 12 month period.  The customers routinely made comments about her breasts and engaged in inappropriate touching when they visited the store.

Seems like a pretty simple problem to solve, right?  Just have her manager ban the harassers from the store: Problem solved.

Unfortunately, here’s where AutoZone drops the ball:  The employee repeatedly complained to her managers.  Instead of addressing the issue, her superiors told her to “stop being a crybaby” because they were concerned about losing the customers’ continuing business.  Yeah – obviously, not a good piece of management work there. . .

When her complaints to her managers failed to solve the problem, Diaz complained to AutoZone’s corporate HR department.

Amazingly, even corporate HR waited a full four months to respond to her complaint. FOUR MONTHS!!!!

Not surprisingly, the employee successfully sued AutoZone for sexual harassment.  In early February, a jury returned a verdict in her favor in a whopping $2.5 million dollar amount.

The message?  As an employer, you are liable for the actions of anyone who creates a knowingly hostile work environment, whether those individuals are employed by you or not.  When you learn about this type of behavior, deal with it.  Don’t pull an AutoZone.  If you do, you’ll have 2.5 million reasons why you’ll regret it.

Amazingly, Diaz continues to work for AutoZone, albeit at a different location. . .