By Daniel Saeedi, Rachel L. Schaller
May. 30, 2019
Dawn Suppo was a Costco Wholesale Corp. employee.
A customer approached Suppo and asked her personal questions, including where she lived. A few days later, the same customer asked Suppo more questions. In another instance, Suppo noticed that the customer was in a disguise, and watching her from behind an aisle.
Suppo complained to her supervisors, but to no avail. Suppo also asked for a closer parking spot in the Costco parking lot, which was denied. The customer encountered Suppo at least 20 more times over the next 13 months, in some instances attempting to touch Suppo, bumping his cart into her, and, in one instance, videotaping her. Suppo was forced to obtain a “no contact order” to restrain the customer.
The stalking forced Suppo to take family medical leave to avoid continued encounters with the customer. Eventually, Costco terminated Suppo because her unpaid medical leave had expired. Suppo filed a hostile work environment charge with the EEOC under Title VII. After an investigation, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Costco on behalf of Suppo.
The case proceeded to a jury trial, and the jury ruled in favor of Suppo. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that the harassment Suppo faced was “severe and pervasive” under the law, given the significant amount of stalking that took place.
The court affirmed the jury’s conclusion that there was a basis for employer liability because the employer’s response to Suppo’s predicament was “unreasonably weak.” EEOC v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 903 F.3d 618 (7th Cir. 2018).
IMPACT: Employers should be aware that a hostile work environment can be created by unreasonable behavior on the part of a company’s customers. In the case of stalking, employers should attempt to provide solutions to employees to avoid the stalking and cooperate with police where necessary.
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