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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Are Employees Protected From National Origin Harassment From Nonemployees?

definition of harassment

Having litigated hostile work environment harassment cases in Florida state and federal courts for nearly twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida hostile work environment harassment attorneys know that many employers adopt a “see no evil, hear no evil” strategy to harassment of their employees by nonemployees.  Under well-established law, employers are responsible for the harassing acts of nonemployees, including customers, clients, and independent contractors, where the employer knows or should know of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment and prevent the harassment from recurring.

In defending themselves against hostile work environment harassment claims involving nonemployees, employers routinely argue that they should not be held liable for the harassment because they do not have the ability to control nonemployees.  However, as explained by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Dunn v. Washington County Hospital, 429 F.3d 689 (7th Cir. 2005), “employers have an arsenal of incentives and sanctions” that “can be applied to affect [nonemployee] conduct.”  Moreover, as the Dunn court pointed out, the employer’s responsibility is to provide employees with nondiscriminatory working conditions.”  “The genesis of inequality matters not,” the Dunn court observed, “what does matter is how the employer handles the problem.”

Employee Harassed Because Of His National Origin

Echoing the reasoning in Dunn, the U.S. District Court for Colorado in Zasada v. City of Englewood, Case No. 11-cv-2835 (D. Col. 2013) concluded that employees are protected from national origin harassment by nonemployees.  In that case, Ireneusz Zasada (Zasada) brought a national origin harassment claim against his former employer, the City of Englewood (the City), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).  Under Title VII, employees are protected from discrimination on the basis of national origin.  National origin harassment is a form of national origin discrimination forbidden by Title VII.  When an employee is subjected to national origin harassment which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the employee’s environment and create a hostile work environment, Title VII is violated.

Zasada, a native of Poland, was employed as a police officer by the City for nearly seven years until his termination.  Zasada alleged that he was subjected to continuous harassment because of his Polish national origin by a police officer, Barrella.  Barrella was not employed by the City, but instead was employed by Douglas County, Colorado.  Zasada claimed that Barrella frequently made derogatory remarks to him about “Pollocks.”  For example, when Barrella first learned that Zasada was from Poland, he “immediately made a derogatory comment” to Zasada about “Pollocks” in the presence of other officers.  After this incident, according to Zasada, Barrella continued to make derogatory remarks to him about “Pollocks” 

Employer Knew Of Harassment & Failed To Stop It

Zasada complained several times about Barrella’s derogatory remarks to his supervisor at the City, Martin.  The City took no action in response to Zasada’s complaints.  Zasada confronted Barrella and told him that his comments were offensive, but the derogatory remarks did not stop.  After complaining about Barrella’s conduct, Zasada became the subject of an internal investigation that was conducted by Martin.  Following the internal investigation, Zasada was reassigned to “Records” where he performed desk work.  After his reassignment, Zasada became the subject of another internal investigation. Following this internal investigation, the City terminated Zasada’s employment.

The City filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Zasada’s national origin harassment claim.  In doing so, the City argued that it was not liable for any hostile work environment harassment because Barrella was not an employee of the City when the harassment occurred.  In rejecting the City’s argument, the trial court explained that employers may be held liable for acts of nonemployees in a claim for national origin harassment where the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and “failed to stop it.”  Because Zasada alleged that the harassment continued despite his repeated complaints, Zasada had sufficiently “alleged that the City was on notice of the harassment” and, thus, could be held liable for the harassment because the City “failed to stop it.”

Free Consultation With Inverness Harassment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida hostile work environment harassment attorneys have represented harassment victims for almost twenty years.  If you have been harassed by a nonemployee or have questions about your protection from harassment by a nonemployee, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Citrus County, Florida hostile work environment harassment lawyers.  Our employment and labor law attorneys take hostile work environment harassment cases on a contingency fee basis.  This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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