EMPLOYER NOT LIABLE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT THAT OCCURRED AFTER HOURS ON THE EMPLOYER’S PREMISES

Anderson v. Impact Floors of Texas, LP
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-13-01183-CV (November 20, 2014)
Justices FitzGerald (Opinion), Fillmore, and Stoddart
Anderson claims she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker, Henry Lopez, at their workplace. She sued their employer, Impact Floors. But an employer generally is not liable for the intentional tort of an employee unless it ratifies the employee’s conduct. Here, the Dallas Court of Appeals found no ratification by the employer and therefore no liability on its part.

After work one evening, Anderson and several other employees of Impact Floors—including Lopez and Lopez’s supervisor, Taylor Whitehead—stayed to drink and celebrate Whitehead’s birthday. Late into the evening, only Anderson, Lopez, and Whitehead remained. When Anderson’s sister came to pick her up around midnight, she was greeted at the door by Whitehead, and the two of them discovered Anderson and Lopez in one of the bathrooms. The sister testified that Anderson was passed out on the floor and that Lopez was sexually assaulting her. Anderson sued her employer, Impact Floors, for assault and for failing to provide a safer workplace, but the trial court granted summary judgment against her. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed.

Under Texas law, an employer generally cannot be held liable for an intentional assault committed by one of its employees unless “(1) a vice principal for [the employer] (2) knew about and ratified [the employee’s] assault (3) in the course of the vice principal’s employment.” The Dallas Court noted that it has also required proof that the assault was “committed in the employer’s interest or with the intent to further the employer’s interest.” Because there was no evidence that Lopez’s supervisor, Whitehead, actually knew Lopez was assaulting Anderson, there could be no ratification, and summary judgment was appropriate.

With respect to Anderson’s claim that Impact Floors had failed to provide a safe workplace, the Court noted that Anderson was not working at the time of the assault, but rather was drinking and socializing on the employer’s premises after business hours. Accordingly, it held the case should not be evaluated in terms of a safe workplace. Impact Floors owed Anderson the same duties it would owe any member of the public. Even assuming Anderson could be viewed as an invitee (as opposed to a licensee or a trespasser), Impact Floors had a duty to protect her from criminal acts only if it knew or had a “reason to know of an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm.” Here, because there was no evidence of similar prior crimes, the employer had no reason to know of any risk, and thus had no duty to protect Anderson.

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