HR Management & Compliance

Include Customer Harassment in Your Harassment Training

According to a recent article on, you might want to incorporate a recent court case, which involved accusations of ongoing sexual and racial harassment by a customer, into your training on harassment.

For the details of the case, click here.

What the court said

The appeals court majority reversed on the hostile work environment claims and affirmed the decision on the other claims.

The court said a reasonable jury could conclude that the sex- and race-based harassment in this case were unwelcome; the harassment was based on Phyllis’s sex and race; the “harassment was so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive or hostile atmosphere”; “Dal-Tile knew or should have known of the harassment”; and the company failed to respond adequately.

“Although the harassment eventually stopped after the communication ban was put into place, the harassment had continued unabated for 3 years prior to that,” the court said. “While a communication ban may have been an adequate response had it been put into place sooner, Dal-Tile’s failure was in not responding promptly to the harassment.”

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The court also noted that Phyllis and other coworkers testified about Lucas’s inappropriate sexual and racial remarks, and Lucas himself admitted to making sexual remarks and comments that were “[m]aybe racially inappropriate” in the office. Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corporation, et al. (No. 13-1481) (U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Cir., 4/29/14)

In brief

Just as managers and supervisors should understand that an employer can be held liable for harassment by a coworker, this case demonstrates that an employer can also be held liable for harassment by a third party and that employee complaints of such behavior should be promptly and thoroughly investigated and addressed.

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