Employer Not Liable for Customer Misdeeds

October 30, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A California appeals court ruled that employers aren't liable if clients sexually harass their employees.

The ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal came in a case involving Raquel Salazar who sued her employer, Diversified Paratransit Inc., claiming that she was assaulted in 1997 by an adult male client whose genitals were exposed at the time, according to a news report in The Recorder.

Diversified transports developmentally disabled clients from homes to care providers.

The Salazar suit was filed under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which she said created an employer liability if clients sexually assaulted their workers, the Recorder said.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled for the company after a jury trial and the appeals court agreed.

However, the appeals judges split on the issue with Justice Joan Klein filing a separate opinion, according to the Recorder.

An employer is not powerless to control its place of business,” Klein wrote. “For example, restaurants routinely display signs stating ‘No shirts, no shoes, no service.’   An employer is equally capable of refusing service to a client or customer who sexually harasses an employee, or otherwise acting to protect an aggrieved employee from further harassment.”

Klein said the California Legislature had amended the FEHA in 1984 by declaring that employers had to protect employees from sexual harassment by clientele.

According to The Recorder, the California State Attorney General’s Office filed a legal brief with the appeals court supporting Salazar as did the California Employment Lawyers Association.

The employer drew support from the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, the Recorder said.