Federal Court Rules that a Sexually Hostile Work Environment Case Against Costco Can Go Forward

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A federal district court judge ruled that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) claim that Costco violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to prevent a male customer from stalking and harassing a female employee at the company's Glenview, Ill. warehouse will be decided by a jury.

Judge Ruben Castillo, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, denied Costco's motion for summary judgment on EEOC's claim it failed to protect one of its former employees from a sexually hostile work environment. The decision in EEOC v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 14-cv-6553, was entered on Dec. 16, 2015. The court announced it will select a jury trial date at a status hearing in January.

The court said it found evidence the employee was subjected to harassing behavior by a customer for more than a year, including ominous staring, unwanted physical touching, unwanted requests for dates and overly intrusive personal questions. The court found evidence the customer interactions continued to escalate, even though he had been talked to by Costco's managers and the Glenview police to avoid her. The court also concluded that, added together and given the length of time over which the incidents occurred, they amounted to a level of a hostile work environment.

The court also found evidence Costco failed to take reasonable steps to stop the harassment, noting that Costco waited more than a year to ban the customer from the store. The court granted summary judgment for Costco on EEOC's constructive discharge claim.

Costco is an international membership warehouse retailer which, according to its website, has over 650 locations worldwide, annual revenues over $100 billion, and over 125,000 employees in the United States.

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