Fourth Circuit Opinion Highlights Risk of Harassment by Nonemployees

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In a recent decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, a South Carolina food service company could be liable for failing to protect an employee who was subjected to a daily barrage of lewd comments and gestures by employees of one of the employer’s biggest clients. The Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision which granted the employer summary judgment and remanded the case for trial.

The employer, a food-stocking company that sells snacks and beverages in vending machines it places on clients’ premises, employed the plaintiff, Homer Ray Howard, as a route driver. The plaintiff’s route included a stop at Greenville Hospital to service its vending machines. After an incident with a co-worker who left a note in the hospital canteen calling him gay, two hospital employees began harassing the plaintiff daily. The hospital employees would make unwanted sexual comments during almost every encounter they had with the plaintiff including calling him “Homo Howard,” groping themselves, and propositioning him.

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