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Can A Customer Sue A Store For Sexual Harassment By An Employee?

by | May 17, 2022 | Employment Law, Sexual Harassment |

Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Reply: Do companies have a legal obligation to protect customers from sexual harassment by the company’s employees? Can I sue if I am sexually harassed by an employee of a business? Am I legally protected in a store from sexual harassment?

As you may know, as an employee, there is a legal obligation for an employer to protect its employees from sexual harassment in the workplace as well as provide a safe work environment for their employees. However, recently there has been some debate as to how far these sexual harassment protections actually reach. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ruled on a case determining whether customers are legally protected from sexual harassment from employees or supervisors at a business. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a terrible occurrence and if you have been the victim of one of these uncomfortable and degrading experiences, please call Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm immediately to get the help you deserve! (Please see the following for more information: The Spitz Law Firm’s Ongoing Fight vs Discrimination, Can I Sue For Sexual Harassment, and I’m Being Sexual Harassed By My Boss; Can I Sue?).

Specifically, Yucis v. Sears Outlet Stores, LLC was a very important case that was recently decided by the Third Circuit. In this case, Elisabeth Yucis, a female customer, was shopping around in a Sears store to find a refrigerator for her family. While she was shopping around the store, Yucis was approached by a male sales manager to help her with her purchase; however, helping was the opposite of what he did. Yucis was then subjected to sexually harassing behavior and comments from the male sales manager. When the manager approached Yucis he began with, “what is a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?” Although a compliment was implanted within the question, it was inappropriate and made Yucis feel very uncomfortable.

When Yucis began to scroll through the photos on her phone to show the manager what type of refrigerator she had in mind for the purchase he asked a sexually suggestive question. The sales manager asked Yucis whether there were “photos on there that [he was] not supposed to see?” This question made Yucis feel uncomfortable and the comments were very unwelcome. Yucis felt so strongly about how uncomfortable she was that she decided to tell him to stop. The manager did not take Yucis seriously and told her that he was married and that he was “just having fun.” This interaction was not fun for Yucis. When Yucis decided that it would be best to leave, the sales manager extended a business card to her and told her to “text [him] later if you feel lonely.” To say the least, this conversation was unwelcome and inappropriate. An employee should not be able to treat a customer in this manner. However, the notable question is not whether it should be allowed, but, rather, if it is actually allowed, as ruled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Like many employees that faced similar situations, Yucis decided to sue Sears. Yucis claimed that she was subject to unlawful sexual harassment while shopping in one of their store locations. Yucis attempted to make the argument in front of the District Court that the Sears store was liable for one of their employee’s sexual harassment of a customer. Unfortunately, the District Court did not agree with Yucis and ruled that Sears could not be held liable for the sexual harassing behavior of one of its employees. The District Court dismissed Yucis’ case.

Due to how contentious this issue was, Yucis decided to make an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals. The Third Circuit decided to affirm the District Court’s ruling, which essentially means that they will allow the decision of the lower court to stand as ruled. The Third Circuit held, “Sears Outlet was not liable for the manager’s sexual harassment because Yucis was unable to show that the harasser acted withing the scope of his employment when he engaged in the complained-of behavior.” The dismissal of Yucis’ case was upheld.

There are five ways in which a plaintiff can establish liability for the employer in a sexual harassment case. The five tests are: (1) the employee was “acting within the scope of [his] employment;” (2) the employer “intended the conduct or the consequences;” (3) the employer “was negligent or reckless;” (4) the employee’s “conduct violated a non-delegable duty of the employer;” or (5) the employee “purported to act or to speak on behalf of the employer and there was reliance upon apparent authority, or he was aided in accomplishing the illegal act by the existence of the employment relation.” According to the Third Circuit, none of the five tests were met.

It is important to note that this is just one case; this does not mean that all customers are barred from suing employers for sexual harassment. This should not be a discouragement to anyone who has experienced a similar situation. The facts of Yucis v. Sears Outlet Stores simply did not meet the threshold that it needed to, but this does not mean all sexual harassment claims would not meet the necessary threshold. Our attorneys want to make sure that you feel safe in the workplace and are protected from sexual harassment related to your employment. (Please see: What Is A Sexually Hostile Working Environment?, Do I Have A Hostile Work Environment Claim?, and Help, My Manager Is Sexually Harassing Me At Work!).

How do I sue my employer for sexual harassment by my manager?

Sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar Ohio laws. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At The Spitz Law Firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/hostile work environment attorney to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination, and employers should be held accountable if they discriminate against female workers in any fashion – but particularly for sexual harassment. It does not matter if you have been wrongfully fired or are still employed, there is no reason to wait to find out what your legal rights are and how to protect yourself from sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Call our top attorneys in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.


The employment discrimination materials available at the top of this page and at this gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sexual harassment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “what should I do if my manager is sexually harassing me?”, “I’m being sexually harassed at work by my supervisor”, “my boss keeps asking me to have sex with him.”, “my boss keeps rubbing me,” or “I was fired today for reporting sexual harassment to HR”, your best course is to contact an Ohio sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this employment law website are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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