Can employers be held liable when customers sexually harass workers? Yes, under certain circumstances. Companies have a legal responsibility to protect their workers from a sexually hostile work environment, even when the source of the harassment is a customer.
After actor Eliza Dushku complained of sexual harassment on the set of the TV show "Bull," CBS fired her. Moreover, according to a draft internal investigation report, a network lawyer released outtakes from the show in an attempt to discredit Dushku.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis that individual arbitration clauses in employment contracts are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act. Therefore, employers can require, as a condition of employment, employees to agree to resolve their employment law claims individually in arbitration rather than taking them to court or attempting to act collectively.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's fiscal year 2018 closed just a few days before the anniversary of the first stories about media mogul Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual misconduct. Outrage against Weinstein and others in Hollywood began a national reckoning in which powerful men in media, politics, journalism and other fields have been publicly accused of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct.
During much of CEO Les Moonves' tenure at CBS Corp., CBS has been America's most popular broadcast network. Hits like "The Big Bang Theory" and "NCIS" helped make Moonves one of the industry's highest-paid and most powerful executives. He has now resigned from the network after a new round of allegations were brought against him by six women who worked with him in the past.
The #MeToo movement has arguably brought down scores of men who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment or misconduct, along with colleagues and executives who had looked the other way in the past. That may give the impression that the goal of filing a sexual harassment complaint is to get the harasser fired. In many or even most cases, that is not true.
The prestigious Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) recently published an exposé on how women are treated in the field of photojournalism, and the results are stark. Women across the industry said that sexual harassment and misconduct are routine and broadly tolerated by those in power. At least two well-known male photographers are also well-known serial harassers, for example, and their company has long stonewalled complaints.
A group of former cheerleaders for the Houston Texans have filed two employment lawsuits in the past two weeks. The first was filed as a potential class action against the National Football League and alleges that Texans cheerleaders are not fairly compensated or paid overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The second suit makes the same claim against the Texans but adds that the women were subjected to a hostile work environment and physical assaults by both the cheerleading coach and Texans fans.