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A New York clothing store worker who was repeatedly bullied by a security guard was awarded $4.7 million by a federal court jury earlier this month.
In his lawsuit for assault, infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring against the owner of the Pretty Girl clothing store where he works in the stock room, Osama Saleh alleged that the store's security guard punched him in the face and repeatedly called him "bin Laden."
The store's management dismissed his complains about the guard's bullying, the New York Daily News reports. But now, they're on the hook for nearly $5 million in damages. What should they have done differently?
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Saleh, 27, who was born in Yemen, reported the security guard's harassment to his managers. The taunts included repeatedly being called "bin Laden" and being told by the security guard that he hated Arabs because they were "dirty."
The store's managers weren't concerned, however, and considered it just workplace banter. Pretty Girl Vice President Victor Lavy even testified at the trial that the racial and religious harassment was "no big deal" and that the two were just "teasing each other by calling the names. They're playing."
Jurors, however, didn't agree, and awarded Saleh $4.7 million in compensatory damages -- for his pain and suffering and his injuries, including permanent hearing damage from being punched -- as well as punitive damages against Pretty Girl.
This case should serve as an warning for business owners to not only take seriously complaints of workplace harassment, but also to consider implementing an anti-bullying policy. Though an anti-bullying policy will not shield you from liability in a lawsuit, it can help prevent employees from bullying one another in the first place.
Furthermore, in the event that workplace bullying does still take place, having a strong anti-bullying policy can also be useful in showing that, unlike the management and ownership in this case, your business takes bullying and its harmful effects seriously.
Anti-bullying legislation at the state level is still pending, but in the meantime, making it clear that bullying or any other form of workplace harassment won't be tolerated at your business can save you a ton of trouble down the road.
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