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Legal Briefing

Costco Accountable for not Ending Abuse

Employers have a duty to protect their employees from the harassment of customers.

Dawn Suppo worked at Costco’s Glenview, Illinois, location between 2009 and 2012.

Between August 2010 and September 2011, a customer, Thad Thompson, harassed Suppo by regularly stalking her around the store, remarking on her looks, asking her about the men in her life and touched her at least twice without her permission. Suppo claims that she was vocal about her complaints of discomfort with Thompson and asked her manager on repeated occasions about prohibiting Thompson’s presence in the store.

Suppo left the company after a year of medical leave that she says was spurred by one final incident in which Thompson became angry at her refusal to let him film her. The EEOC brought suit against Costco on behalf of Suppo, seeking to hold Costco liable for failing to act on Suppo’s complaints of harassment and failing to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

Although Costco claimed that Suppo only submitted two complaints, each a year apart, and each time Costco took concrete action to stop the alleged misbehavior, including eventually terminating his membership and prohibiting him from shopping at any Costco location, a jury nonetheless handed down a verdict against Costco for $250,000.

The jury did not, however, find that Costco acted with reckless disregard for Suppo’s Title VII rights and declined to punish Costco by imposing punitive damages. EEOC v. Costco Wholesale Corp., Case No. 14-cv-6533 (N.D. Illinois, Dec. 20, 2016).

Impact: Employers have a duty to protect their employees from the harassment of customers and must take reasonable steps to prevent any such harassment.