Workforce.com

Legal Brief Employer Liable for Customer, Independent Contractor Harassment

For Title VII liability, it makes no difference whether the person whose acts are complained of is an employee, independent contractor or a customer.

January 13, 2006
Employers can be liable for Title VII sex harassment by third-party nonemployees, customers, independent contractors or, for that matter, nasty parrots.

    Lisa Dunn, a hospital nurse, complained that Thomas Coy, a staff doctor, made life miserable for her and other women. Coy, a doctor with only hospital privileges, was not a hospital employee. Because Coy furnished medical services to patients, the hospital argued that it could not control Coy’s conduct and, hence, was not liable for Title VII sex harassment.

    The Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit disagreed. The court noted that if a patient kept a parrot in his room that bit and scratched women, but not men, and the hospital did nothing, the hospital would be liable under Title VII for exposing women to discriminatory working conditions. It would be the hospital’s responsibility to protect its female employees by excluding the offending bird from its premises. The hospital likewise would violate Title VII if it did not stop Coy’s offending conduct directed against females. Dunn v. Washington County Hospital, 429 F.3d 689 (7th Cir. Nov. 17, 2005).

    Impact: For Title VII liability, it makes no difference whether the person whose acts are complained of is an employee, independent contractor or a customer. The employer’s ability to control the actor plays no role. Employers must promptly respond to and stop harassment situations in their workplace no matter the source.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Workforce Management
, January 16, 2006, p. 13 -- Subscribe Now!