A recent New Jersey Superior Court case involving PNC Bank as a defendant should serve as an eye-opening reminder to all employers that it has a duty to maintain a safe and healthy workplace for all employees, free from harassment, discrimination and any other tort or prohibited conduct. Notably, this duty to maintain a safe and healthy workplace not only applies to the eradication of wrongdoing by employees, but also affords protection to employees from improper acts of non-employees such as customers, clients, vendors, independent contractors, etc.
Following a jury trial in Essex County, PNC Bank was deemed liable in the amount of $2.4 million in damages, consisting of both back and front pay, as well as past and future emotional distress damages, awarded to a former employee who claimed she was the victim of a sexual assault/gender discrimination by a bank customer in 2013. The Plaintiff argued that the customer in question was known by the Bank to have groped and harassed others in the past, yet the Bank did not take the appropriate, remedial measures to ensure her safety and prevent it from happening again.
Although the Bank claims that it had no such knowledge of the prior bad acts of the customer and had no way of knowing any such assault would occur towards the Plaintiff, the jury clearly did not accept that defense.
This case is yet another example on how important it is to have a well-established and widely distributed anti-harassment and discrimination policy and training for all staff in the workplace, applicable to all those susceptible to harassment or discrimination in the workplace, whether it be by fellow employees or otherwise, such as customers or guests.