Oak Grove, OR- We know employers are liable when a boss or coworker sexually harasses an employee, but what about when a customer crosses the line? Is a business liable for turning a blind eye to customer who repeatedly sexually harasses and employee? Yes, they are, and if they don’t do anything about it, they could be facing a massive payout.

A grocery store in Oak Grove, Oregon, learned the hard way how costly it can be to ignore an employee’s sexual harassment complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ordered Fred Meyer, a subsidiary of the Kroger Company, to pay $487,500 to seven female employees who were sexually harassed on an almost daily basis by one of the store’s regular customers, the Oregonian reported.

Beginning in 2007, Charles J. Janac, a man in his 80s, would make daily visits, sometimes several, to ogle at female employees. He would make lewd comments about their bodies and rub up against them, the EEOC complaint says.

The lawsuit also states that Janac would sit by the employee time clock and would pull the women onto his lap as they clocked-in. When they complained about his overt sexual behavior, Janac would make comments like “that’s what they’re there for,” referring to the women’s breasts.

The women complained to  store managers and to Janac himself, but he persisted and continued to be a dirty old man.  According to the Oregonian, management dismissed the women’s complaints as “hearsay,” and refused to ban him unless security personnel could catch him in the act.

The women however were not satisfied with this response and called police after enduring the behavior for two years. Janac was charged and convicted of sexual assault and required to register as a sex offender. He died in 2011.

This was not an isolated incident for Oregon-based Fred Meyer stores. In 2008, an Oregon City location settled a sexual harassment suit filed on behalf of four women for $485,000 f. And more recently, the chain of grocery stores paid $40,000 to a woman who was fired because she complained about being sexually harassed by a coworker.

Let’s face, at his age Janac comes from the generation of men who think women should be happy to be the object of their sexual desire and sexually charged comments.  Not all men have this attitude but in his better days, women had few protections from sexual harassment.

This should serve as an example to other employers, if your staff is being repeatedly sexually harassed, then you need to take their allegations seriously. If there is doubt about whether the claims are legitimate, then you can hire a sexual harassment attorney to investigate the allegations. It may a little costly in the short term, but could save you hundreds of thousands if the allegations turn out to be true.

If you don’t take the appropriate steps, your employees will, and an Oregon sexual harassment attorney will see that you pay for your lack of action.