$250,000 Award in Compensatory Damages Against Costco for Failure to Aid Employee Harassed by Customer

Monday, January 2, 2017

A federal jury has awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages to a former employee of Costco Wholesale, Inc. who was harassed and stalked by a Costco customer.

The federal agency alleged that Costco, the Washington-based international warehouse club, failed to prevent a male customer from harassing and stalking a Costco female employee, in Costco's Glenview, Illinois warehouse for over a year. The alleged harassment included unwelcome touching, unwelcome advances, and stalking. Although the employee reported the customer's conduct to Costco management, and the customer himself repeatedly reported his ongoing contact with the employee to Costco, the store took no effective action to prevent the harassment. As a result, the employee was forced to obtain a restraining order against the customer.

At trial, EEOC Trial Attorneys Richard Mrizek and Laura Feldman argued that Costco knew about the customer's conduct, but failed to take appropriate steps to correct the harassment and prevent it from recurring. According to EEOC, this conduct created a hostile working environment for the employee, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires an employer to take reasonable steps necessary to maintain a workplace free from harassment based on one's sex.

The eight-person Chicago jury unanimously found for EEOC and rejected Costco's arguments that the employee was unreasonably sensitive to harassment and that the harassment was not sufficiently sexual.

Judge Ruben Castillo presided over the seven-day trial, concluding litigation that lasted more than two years. EEOC filed its lawsuit, Civil Action No. 14-CV-6553, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, after first attempting to settle the matter through its conciliation process.

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