Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Sunday, January 25, 2004

An Appropriate Case For Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is not a favorite of mine, and absent tight judicial control that can easily turn into a code of civility, of the type that courts so frequently note does not exist. Nevertheless, there are rare fact situations where even I would be hard pressed to deny that such a claim might exist. Gantt v. Security, USA, Inc. (4th Cir. 1/23/04) [pdf] is such a case.

Gantt, a security guard obtained a restraining order against her boyfriend. Her week-end supervisor who also was her boyfriend's supervisor at another security company during the week, sent her to a job assignment knowing that she would be exposed to her boyfriend. Even after he called and threatened Gantt, the supervisor refused to remove her. After Gantt was kidnapped, raped and held captive for 6 hours by the boyfriend, she sued the company for among other things, the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The facts seem to me to be the very narrow exception that the tort was designed to cover. Even here the company may, and perhaps under the law of Maryland should, escape liability. The claim might fail because of the workers' comp bar as interpreted by Maryland courts, or the supervisor might not be at a sufficient level to bind the company vicariously, both are mentioned as possibilities in the opinion. But just on the question of whether the underlying facts state a cause of action, this one does not offend. At least not me.

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