By Bill Wright
The facts alleged are horrific. A supervisor had a history of screaming obscenities and throwing things at women who worked for him. The employer sent him to anger management classes. His preferred victim was seven months pregnant when he coerced her to travel out of town with him by threatening to fire her or cut her hours. While out of town, she rejected his advances again and he killed her and raped the corpse.
The supervisor is serving two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, but the issue for the court was, did the victim’s estate have a claim for negligent supervision against the employer? The court rejected the employer’s motion to dismiss. Applying Illinois law, but citing the use of agency law in Ellerth and Faragher, the court ruled that employers have a duty to exercise reasonable care to control a supervisor’s conduct, even when the conduct is outside the scope of employment, if the supervisor uses his authority to perpetrate the conduct. Here, the supervisor used his authority to coerce the victim to be alone with him, resulting in her murder and rape.
In its arguments, the employer downplayed how much they knew about the murderer’s previous conduct and compared the murderer’s previous conduct to “thousands” of its other employees. In response, the court cited employers’ responsibility for supervisor’s tangible employment actions. For employers, the case demonstrates the need to train employees to appeal from supervisors’ threats. The case also shows the need to discharge raging *******s (insert expletive here) at work, no matter how many of them you have. Anicich v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. et al., No. 16-1693 (7th Cir. March 24, 2017).