By Kathleen Kapusta, J.D.
The employee alleged that her manager’s actions "took an extreme psychological toll" on her resulting in an attempted suicide and involuntary hospitalization.
An employee’s counterclaim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against a manager with whom she had been romantically involved—and who had sued her for libel per se when she posted on Facebook about her experience with him to "help others avoid similar abusive relationships"—survived his motion to dismiss. Although he claimed her allegations were simply "hostile unpleasantries" common in romantic relationships gone awry, the federal court in California disagreed, finding he exhibited extreme and outrageous conduct by allegedly raping her and yanking her to the ground. And while her battery claim also advanced, her claim for assault was dismissed without prejudice (Guzman v. Finch, August 9, 2019, Anello, M.).
After two work trips together, the traveling sales employee for Mattress Firm began a sexual relationship with her direct manager, who was more than 20 years her senior. Although it was peaceful at first, she alleged that when she tried to end their relationship upon discovering he was seeing other women, he "became enraged," "yelled at her and accused her of being disloyal," "attempted to guilt her into returning to him," and "leveraged his position as her manager to threaten her career." She was, she claimed, forced to "choose between her job or resuming her relationship" with him.
Abusive and controlling. They resumed their relationship, but he became increasingly abusive, she alleged, and would fly into a rage whenever she turned her attention away from him. He also purportedly "grew angry and jealous if she visited family or friends," blocked her mother’s phone number from her phone, "prohibited her from speaking to her best friend," and "began dictating how she dressed and wore her hair." Further, she claimed, not only did he invoke "his status as her manager to make clear her career was on the line," he invoked "his close relationships with district managers" to warn her she needed to "‘respect’ him if she wanted to work." He also removed her from schedules at the end of 2017 and from April to June of 2018.
Raped. While working together at an event in June 2018, he allegedly raped her. On another occasion, when she attempted to leave his house, he "grabbed her by the arms and yanked her so hard she fell over and broke her fibula." When she requested a reassignment to another Mattress Firm store in September, he became enraged and begged her to give him another chance. Around that same time, she alleged, she was involuntarily hospitalized after she tried to kill herself.
Facebook post. She ultimately broke up with him and in late September, she posted on Facebook about her experience to "help others avoid similar abusive relationships." When a coworker reported the post to HR, she was fired.
Lawsuit. He then sued her in state court alleging her Facebook post was libel per se. She removed the action to federal court and filed a counterclaim against him and Mattress Firm asserting claims for assault, battery, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy as well as a sexual battery claim against him. She subsequently dismissed all her claims against Mattress Firm and her wrongful termination and sexual harassment claims against him. The manager then moved to dismiss her remaining counterclaims against him and she opposed only the dismissal of her assault, battery, and IIED claims.
Assault. In dismissing her assault claim, the court noted that her allegations of rape and yanking her by the arm to the ground sufficiently established that her manager threatened to touch her in a harmful or offensive manner. She also sufficiently alleged that she did not consent to this, that she was harmed, and that his conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm. She failed, however, to allege facts showing it reasonably appeared to her that he was about to rape her or yank her arm.
Battery. As to her battery claim related to him breaking her fibula, the manager argued it was not facially plausible because her Facebook post stated that she broke her ankle in front of him and that he told her she was stupid for not looking where she was walking. But her Facebook post and his response to her breaking her ankle did not contradict her allegation that he "grabbed her by the arms and yanked her so hard that she fell over and broke her fibula," said the court, finding she sufficiently alleged he intentionally "grabbed" and "yanked" her arms, which resulted in a harmful or offensive contact that caused injury. Thus. this claim advanced.
IIED. In moving to dismiss her IIED claim, the manager argued that his conduct was not extreme and outrageous. Although he cited Cochran v. Cochran, a state appeals court case finding the threats at issue there were not actionable because they were "the kind of boastful, peevish, spleen-venting" threats "which frequently occurs between the parties to an intimate relationship gone bad," the employee here alleged her manager threatened her career, blocked her mother’s phone number from her phone, prohibited her from speaking to her best friend, employed psychological tactics to control her, raped her, and grabbed her arms and yanked her with so much force that she fell and broke her fibula.
She also alleged he acted on his threats by removing her from schedules at work and thus he was not merely making threats, said the court, he was allegedly following through on them. Additionally, he exhibited extreme and outrageous conduct by raping her and yanking her to the ground. Further, she claimed, his actions "took an extreme psychological toll" on her as she "fell into a deep depression," attempted suicide, and was involuntarily hospitalized as a result. This was enough to establish severe emotional distress, the court concluded, declining to dismiss this claim.
The case is No. 19cv412-MMA (MDD).
Attorneys: Bruce Donald Jaques, Jr. (Jaques Law Office) for Jose Guzman. George Rikos (Law Offices of George Rikos) for Rachel Finch.
Cases: TortClaims SexualHarassment Discrimination Discharge CaliforniaNews
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