September 09, 2019 Top Story

Employers May Be Liable for Harassment by Nonemployees

Awareness of harassment is key to analysis of employer's liability

By C. Thea Pitzen

An employee harassed by a client, customer, or other nonemployee in the workplace may have a claim against his or her employer under antidiscrimination laws, according to the Washington Court of Appeals.

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The facts in LaRose v. King County involved a public defender who received 10–20 phone calls a day from a client making “disturbing sexual and offensive comments.” The attorney reported the behavior to her supervisor but was not taken off the case. Ultimately, the court permitted the attorney to withdraw from the representation, but the harassment continued. Among other things, the client called his former attorney more than 1,000 times over 10 months, jumped out at her in a parking garage, left lingerie on her car, hid in her backyard, and appeared at her bedroom window in the middle of the night. He was ultimately arrested, while the attorney was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, and PTSD. She was eventually terminated from her employment when she could no longer continue working as a public defender.

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