The Customer is Always Right . . . Not! Employer Liability for Third Party Sexual Harassment

91 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2009

See all articles by Lea B. Vaughn

Lea B. Vaughn

Univ. of Washington School of Law

Date Written: Winter 2002


I was standing in line at the local grocery store, waiting for my regular checker. In front of me were two guys, purchasing beer and snacks. Slightly bored, I listened absently to their conversation as I scanned the tabloid headlines. My boredom vanished, however, when I realized they were "hitting on" Mary (pseudonym), asking if she were available that evening after work to share beer, snacks and good times. I found myself staring open-mouthed since it was easy to see her wedding band, and I could discern no behavior of hers that would have invited these comments.

Unfortunately, behavior like this is all too common. While Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act has made such behavior between supervisors and employees, or even co-employees, clearly off limits, courts and employers are are still reluctant to tell their customers to treat their employees with dignity and respect. Despite this tepid legal response, this paper presents the case for imposing liability on employers who do nothing to prevent customer harassment of workers.

Keywords: sexual harassment, sex discrimination, discrimination, gender & law, workplace harassment

Suggested Citation

Vaughn, Lea B., The Customer is Always Right . . . Not! Employer Liability for Third Party Sexual Harassment (Winter 2002). Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2002, Available at SSRN:

Lea B. Vaughn (Contact Author)

Univ. of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States
(206) 543-4927 (Phone)


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