January 8, 2021 - Discrimination

Harassment and Acquiescence

Below is an excerpt from one of Morrison & Foerster’s newest blogs, Left Coast Appeals, which takes a data-driven look at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to analyzing Court statistics, the blog publishes a “This Week at the Ninth” roundup, a running “Ninth Court Statistics” column, and an “En Banc Tracker,” which keeps tabs on all cases rehearing en banc has been granted.

Read the full blog post on our Left Coast Appeals blog. 


The Ninth Circuit waited until the sixth day of 2021 to issue its first published opinion of the year, and it still has yet to release the sort of business-related civil decision that we here at Left Coast Appeals would ordinarily highlight. But the Court ended 2020 with a bang, issuing a decision that carefully examines the scope of hostile workplace liability and an employer’s obligation to prevent harassment of its employees.

CHRISTIAN v. UMPQUA BANK
The Court holds that a bank could be liable for gender discrimination for failing to take effective steps to stop persistent harassment by a bank customer. 

The panel: Judges Paez, Rawlinson, and Kobayashi (D. Haw.), with Judge Paez writing the opinion.

Key highlight: “Christian learned from her colleagues that the customer was persistently contacting them to obtain information about her. That she did not witness the customer’s condcouct firsthand is no matter: She heard his message loud and clear. Where, as here, a plaintiff becomes aware of harassing conduct directed at other persons, outside her presence, that conduct may form part of a hostile environment claim and must be considered.”

Background: Plaintiff Jennifer Christian worked at a branch of Umpqua Bank. A customer became infatuated with her, repeatedly sending her unwanted letters and flowers and visiting her—conduct both Christian and her coworkers found disturbing. Although her manager at one point said he would keep the customer from returning, he apparently never took action on that request. When the customer later returned to open a new account, Christian’s manager directed Christian to help the customer, and he later advised her to hide in the break room if the customer returned. Christian requested a transfer to a different branch of the bank, at a lower paying position. That transfer was granted, but soon thereafter she resigned.