May 23, 2022

Volume XII, Number 143

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May 20, 2022

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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Settlement Reminds Employers of Responsibility to Protect Employees from Harassment by Third Parties

A Virginia healthcare company, Southwest Virginia Community Health System, recently agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a sexual harassment suit brought against it by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The EEOC lawsuit alleged a female receptionist at one of the company’s clinics was sexually harassed by a male patient. The complaint alleged the employee complained to her supervisor about the sexual harassment, but the company did nothing to protect her from future harm.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are liable for harassment by non-employees if the employers know about the harassment and fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. In this case, the EEOC filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia to enforce this obligation against Southwest Virginia Community Health System. The EEOC had previously tried to settle the case, but the company had refused.  After the lawsuit was filed, the company agreed to pay $30,000 to the affected worker and to conduct training for all employees on sexual harassment prevention; post a notice about the settlement; provide a copy of its sexual harassment policy to all employees; and report future sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC.

In a statement about the settlement, Lynette Barnes, the EEOC’s regional attorney, said, "employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment not only by co-workers, but also by third parties, including patients and customers. Employers need to adopt measures to end sexual harassment that has been reported to the appropriate supervisor regardless of who is perpetrating the misconduct.”  This case is an important reminder to employers that their obligation to protect employees from harassment extends not just to co-workers and supervisors within the company, but also to customers, vendors, independent contractors, clients, patients, and other third parties who interact with the company’s employees.  Employers should be sure their harassment policies encourage employees to report harassment from any source, including third parties, and such reports should be promptly and thoroughly investigated regardless of whether the alleged harasser is a company employee.

© 2022 Poyner Spruill LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume III, Number 302
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About this Author

Kevin M. Ceglowski, Employment and Labor Lawyer, Poyner Spruill, Law Firm
Partner

Kevin represents employers in many areas of labor and employment law, including race, age, gender, religion, national original, and disability employment discrimination claims, wrongful discharge claims, and wage and hour claims. He defends clients before administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, and the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, in state and federal courts, and in arbitrations. Kevin also provides guidance to management to ensure employment practices are in full compliance with all...

919-783-2853
David L. Woodard, Employment Litigation Attorney, Poyner Spruill, Law firm
Partner

David practices in the area of employment litigation.  He regularly advises and defends clients in race, age, disability and sex discrimination and harassment cases; reviews handbooks and termination issues; and provides compliance advice on matters of employment law.

Representative Experience

McNeil v. Scotland County - Obtained summary judgment for employer where plaintiff alleged race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as violation of the Americans...

919-783-2854
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