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EEOC sues Wal-Mart for sexual harassment by co-worker

Most employers in New York are aware that they can be held liable for torts committed by their employees if the act falls within the employee's scope of employment. But what about newer forms of invasive behavior, such as sexual harassment. Many employers assume that they cannot control sexual harassment by employees and that they are therefore not liable for such behavior. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") has a different opinion that it has expressed in a recently filed a lawsuit in Rochester, NY, against Wal-Mart Stores East, LP.

The lawsuit alleges that from 2014 to 2018, a Wal-Mart employee regularly made unwelcome sexual advances and comments to a female co-worker. The harassing behavior allegedly included comments such as how "good" the woman looked. He allegedly invited the woman to meet with him and told her that he wanted to have sex with her. The woman told the man that she was not interested, but he continued the harassing behavior. The complaint alleges that the woman reported the behavior to her supervisor but that the Wal-Mart management took no steps to curb the behavior. Instead, the woman was told to "stand up" for herself and to put her "big panties on." The complaint also alleges that several other women made similar complaints about the same co-worker and that management failed to take any steps to stop the harassment.

The woman who made the initial complaint finally resigned from Wal-Mart. The complaint alleges that the woman's resignation was caused by the failure of Wal-Mart's management to take effect measures to stop the harassment. The complaint further alleges that because the woman's resignation was forced by the company's failure to stem the harassing behavior, the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a statute that forbids employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex.

The lawsuit has just begun, and its result cannot be predicted. Nevertheless, the EEOC is seeking back pay for the woman, compensatory damages and punitive damages based on Wal-Mart's failure to take effective action to prevent the harassment. The EEOC is obviously taking the case very seriously, and both employers and employees should be on notice of the consequences of unwanted sexual advances by one co-worker to another.

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