Employer Liability for ‘Hyper-Sexualized’ Workplace

By James Hatch

Jan. 19, 2007

A jury was confronted with deciding whether to hold an employer liable for maintaining a “hyper-sexualized” workplace in EEOC v. Custom Cos. Inc.

Three former Custom Cos. saleswomen claimed that the company tolerated officers and employees who regularly groped them, made lewd sexual comments, sexually propositioned them and displayed pornography in the office. They also claimed that the company had required them to entertain customers at a strip club owned by the company president and to participate in company-sponsored golf outings where strippers entertained customers.

Despite testimony, photographs and documents confirming these practices, the company claimed at trial that it had been falsely accused of sexual harassment and that the saleswomen complained only to obscure their own poor work performance.

A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois awarded $2.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the three saleswomen. The jury found that the company was liable for maintaining a sexually hostile work environment and for retaliating against the three female employees who complained about such treatment. EEOC v. Custom Cos. Inc., N.D. Ill., No. 02 C 3768 (11/17/06).

Impact: When faced with sexual harassment claims, denying that the sexual harassment occurred and blaming women for being sexually groped may not be the best defense, particularly in the face of evidence to the contrary.

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