While many employers typically think of sexual harassment claims in the context of coworker-on-coworker harassment, or supervisor-on-subordinate harassment, alleged customer-on-employee harassment may also result in costly litigation.
In Judson v. Walgreens Co., 2021 BL 259968, D. Colo., No. 1:20-cv-00159, 7/12/21, pharmacist Kathryn Judson alleged sex discrimination and harassment against Walgreens based on the Company’s alleged failure to correct customer harassment. Judson alleged that older male customers repeatedly commented on her appearance and made uncomfortable prolonged eye contact with her. She alleged that her managers told her she should take the comments as “a compliment” and suggested she stop wearing dresses because they gave customers “the wrong idea.” Judson argued Walgreens failed to protect her from the harassing customers.
Walgreens argued Judson produced insufficient evidence to show severe or pervasive harassment that altered the terms and conditions of her employment. Walgreens argued that even if Judson’s allegations were supported by admissible evidence, the Company requested that Judson provide the names of those who harassed her, but she produced only one name. After reviewing surveillance footage, Walgreens allegedly could not determine whether the alleged harassment actually occurred. The Company alleged that after this incident, Judson brought only general complaints without reference to specific events. Walgreens argued it therefore could not investigate, confirm, or take action to prevent the alleged harassment. Walgreens also presented evidence to show it offered Judson the option to transfer to a new location, but she declined.
The Court denied Walgreens’ Motion for Summary Judgment, stating that there were several disputes of material fact, including the extent to which Walgreens knew of the harassment and the degree of investigation taken by Walgreens. Ultimately, this case involves scant physical evidence and boils down to the dreaded “he said, she said.” As always, employers are well-advised to document the circumstances surrounding allegations of harassment and to remember that harassment comes in many forms, including from customers, clients, suppliers, and more.