Can A Parrot Be Liable For Sexual Harassment?

Ok, so this is a slightly worn, slightly-trick question which I have asked at countless employee and management training sessions, seminars and lectures over the years.  (This is taken from an actual case, with some poetic license taken).

The facts:  A parrot owned by a hospice patient repeatedly uttered sexual comments at an attending nurse.  The nurse complained to her supervisor, who simply laughed it off.   Any liability?

Most people get it wrong; most trained HR people get it right.

Cockatiel, Bird, Animal, Colorful

Answer: Hard to hold a parrot liable since s/he does not have deep pockets, or any pockets for that matter (and would, in any event, likely eat the summons).  But the nurse’s employer may be liable for maintaining a hostile work environment no matter where or from whom the sexually harassing acts come.

A news item from Seattle caught my eye as another possible illustration of this point.

Hotel workers have started a signature drive “to get a wide range of protections on the ballot … Topping the list are measures to keep guests from sexually harassing staff who clean rooms and deliver room service.”

Guests — not co-employees or managers.

Apparently, sexual harassment is rife in the industry, according to hotel workers. One woman said that “I’m scared because it’s not safe.” The article notes that “[s]he said she has had multiple run-ins with men who crossed the line while she was on the job. In one instance, she went alone on a room service call. ‘He opened the door and he is naked,’ she said.”

Echoing my comment, above, a researcher for the local union said that “This initiative is really about making sure that women are protected no matter where the harassment is coming from.”

Possible accommodations?

Mostly measures to be taken by the employer — not the guests.

“Initiative 124 would require panic buttons for employees who work alone in guest rooms. Other provisions include keeping lists of customers accused of assault and harassment.  Some guests could be banned entirely.”



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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]