A recent Fifth Circuit decision reminds healthcare employers that liability not only stems from potential harassment of employees by coworkers, but by patients as well. In Gardner v. CLC of Pascagoula, L.L.C. dba Plaza Community Living Center, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 17939 (5th Cir. June 29, 2018), the Fifth Circuit held that Kymberli Gardner, a former assisted living facility certified nursing assistant who was allegedly harassed by a patient, can proceed with her hostile work environment claim to trial. The Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer.
Articles Discussing Sexual Harassment By Non-Employees.
On April 29, 2014, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that employers can be liable for third-party harassment under a negligence standard. In doing so, the court joined other circuits in establishing that employers can be liable under Title VII for third parties that create a hostile work environment, provided the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action to end it.
In its first published opinion on the topic, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently ruled in Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp. that an employer is liable for harassment by a third party when the employer knows or reasonably should have known about the harassment and fails to take prompt, remedial action reasonably calculated to end the harassment.
Most employers understand the significant consequences of sexual harassment at the workplace and take proactive measures to train employees about proper conduct. However, liability is not limited to the conduct of employees. Employers also have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment by third parties such as clients, vendors, patients, and customers, when the employer knows about the conduct and fails to take any corrective action. Although third-party harassment is reportedly just as common, many employers do not take appropriate steps to prevent it.