I asked last year in this blog whether a parrot can be a sexual harasser. Well, no, the parrot is not a harasser in the legal sense, but an employer can be liable for creating a hostile work environment if he permits sexual comments to be made to an offended employee, whether by a co-worker, or a mail deliverer or even by a parrot. This was a real case — a parrot who was kept by a patient in an expensive long-term care facility repeatedly shouted sexual imprecations to the attending female nurse, who was none too happy about it. She complained to her supervisor who laughed her off. She sued for sexual harassment and won.
A similar case was filed by the EEOC last year in which an 84 year old retail customer hanging out near the employee time clock in a large grocery store repeatedly groped three female employees – sometimes multiple times daily. One of the employees unsuccessfully complained to management to ban the customer from the store. The EEOC thereafter filed a lawsuit on behalf of the employees, alleging that the employer created a sexually hostile work environment. EEOC v. Fred Meyer Stores Inc.
Now, the EEOC has just settled a class action lawsuit for $200,000 against a restaurant for permitting female servers to be sexually harassed by a customer, a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy, who allegedly frequently grabbed their breasts and buttocks, made frequent sexual innuendos, and invited them to join in a ménage a trois.
The EEOC’s Miami regional attorney, Robert E. Weisberg, put it correctly: “Title VII requires an employer to prevent known sexual harassment created by other employees or customers … regardless of the status of the harasser.”
A hostile work environment can be created in any way or by any means if the employer does not address an employee complaint that the workplace is hostile. Or by anyone or any parrot.