When are employers liable for the bad behavior of their customers? The sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, who allegedly attacked an African-immigrant maid in his hotel room in New York City, have spurred some interesting discussion about female employees in the restaurant and hospitality industry, and their exposure to sexual harassment.
According to some commentary, women in these industries -- particularly housekeeping staff and waitresses -- are seen as "fair game" by certain guests and patrons. The fact that many of the women are also immigrants may make them even more vulnerable to such behavior.
I have to admit I have a personal bias. I believe it. I was a waitress a very long time ago (when sexual harassment was still legal -- does that date me, or what?), and I do remember getting a lot of comments from male customers that I never got in any other job before or after.
Anyway, employers in these industries and others should be aware that they can, under certain circumstances, be liable if their customers harass their employees.
A bit of history/nostalgia: In 1976, our nation celebrated its Bicentennial. It was a big deal -- even Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, and Kiss, got into the act. Around that time, the owner of an office building in New York City (what is it with that town, anyway? Kidding!) decided that it would be a good idea to require female employees to wear a "Bicentennial costume," consisting of an American-flag poncho with big gaps in the sides and nothing under it except undies, hot pants, and sheer pantyhose. The plaintiff, who was a lobby attendant and had not intended to become a worker in the sex industry, complained that the immodest costume caused her to be hit upon. She was eventually fired for refusing to wear it.
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