We just came across a short squib from Western Pennsylvania’s TribLive, which reported that the EEOC had recently closed a case filed by the executive secretary of Butler County commissioner Jim Eckstein, in which she claimed that she was sexually harassed because the commissioners “failed to protect her from criticism” leveled at her from two county residents at two public meetings. The residents accused her of “misusing comp time and incorrectly writing the minutes of commissioners‘ meetings.”
Remember our oft-cited vulgar (and annoying) parrot kept by a patient in an expensive long term care facility which repeatedly shouted sexual vulgarities to an offended female nurse? We have repeatedly reminded readers that there is a concept of “third-party harassment” where, as the EEOC stated recently, “courts have concluded that an employer may be liable for the harassment of its employees by non-employees if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take appropriate corrective action to stop it.” The parrot may have been a harasser, but the hospital was liable.
In the Butler County case, the executive secretary gave it the old college try but this was no parrot case. We have no more information that what was reported, but it seems that her case may be distinguishable from the parrot case (and the others we have cited in the past) because there appears to be nothing sexually harassing about the public comments made about the performance of her duties.
On the other hand, if the residents had made sexually harassing comments, we might be within the realm of an interesting “third party liability” situation of “citizen harassment of public employees.” This would then be similar to one case where the court held that the "general rule of reasonableness regarding employer liability for third-party harassment under Title VII adequately respects the difficulties that prison officials encounter in controlling inmate conduct. … Although some harassment by inmates cannot be reasonably avoided, [a prison], on the other hand, cannot refuse to adopt reasonable measures to curtail harassment by inmates."