Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Good To Know My Instincts Are Sound - Jury Awards $2.25 Million for Violence in the Workplace

More than a year ago I commented on a decision from the 4th Circuit, remanding a case to trial on one of my less favored causes of action, intentional infliction of emotional distress. But I was forced to admit that based on the allegations set out in the Court's opinion, even I wasn't offended by the use of the doctrine in that case.

In my original post, I highlighted the facts as follows:

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.

Now courtesy of a press release from the National Crime Victim Bar Association, it appears that a jury when presented with the facts was not offended either. And according to the release, the jury did not even get to hear all the facts:

Due to the trial court's interpretation of the Fourth Circuit's opinion, the jury never heard about the rape and abduction. The Judge ruled that the abduction began when Sheppard [the boyrfriend] grabbed Gantt, and allowed testimony only on events that occurred up to that point. "The jury heard about Sheppard running up the driveway to the security post wielding a shotgun," said Martin. "They heard how [Gantt]was left alone there cowering and pleading for her life. That was enough for the jury to conclude that she had suffered severe emotional distress intentionally inflicted by her supervisor, and which continues today in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, and fear of Sheppard."

Although this is a rather graphic example of the confluence of violence in the workplace and an employer's responsibility, it makes clear how highly juries value safety in the workplace and an employer's responsibility to ensure it, even sometimes where the worst conduct is by a third party.


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