For more information please call  800.727.2766


Employers Required to Promptly and Effectively Protect Employees from Harassing Customers

While working for Umpqua Bank, a male customer asked Jennifer Christian to open a checking account for him. Soon after, this customer dropped off notes to Christian, remarking how attractive he found her and expressing his desire to date her. Christian began to feel uncomfortable; she told him she would not date him. Her supervisor warned her to be careful. The customer continued to make Christian uncomfortable, sending her a very personal letter that she shared with her manager. On several occasions, this customer went into another branch to ask employees about Christian and how he could convince her to date him. One employee suggested she call the police. After the customer sent her flowers, along with a note asserting he and she were “soulmates,” Christian went to her manager; she told him that she did not want the customer allowed in the branch. The manager allegedly promised her that the customer would not be allowed in the bank. However, he did not share that information with the customer. Christian alleged that the manager told her to call the customer and tell him it was inappropriate to send her flowers. The customer’s behavior continued, sending her more letters. When the customer came into the bank, the manager directed Christian to help him. Christian reported the customer’s behavior to another regional manager and a Human Resources representative. She called in sick due to the stress and requested a no-trespass order. The manager told her to hide if the customer came into the bank. Christian requested a transfer to another branch to protect herself, which the bank granted. Sometime thereafter, the bank did close the customer’s account and instruct him not to return.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived Christian’s claims against Umpqua Bank, concluding that a jury could find a hostile working environment when evaluating all of the harassing incidents over the seven month period they occurred. A reasonable juror could see an escalating pattern of behavior and see Christian’s growing fear as reasonable. The appellate court noted the lower court erred in limiting its consideration to “direct, personal interactions” with the customer; the letters, notes, and repeated visits to another branch to ask about her must be considered.

Whether Umpqua took prompt, appropriate, and effective action also presented issues of material fact for the jury. Initially, the bank manager did not inform the customer to stay away from the bank. Moreover, the bank did not take any other steps to protect Christian, such as a safety plan, a no-trespassing order, or discussing the situation with bank security and Human Resources. A jury could find the slow pace of the bank’s response “too little too late,” and the bank inappropriately placed the burden on Christian.