Workplace Sexual Assault Tort Claims: Workers’ Compensation Exclusive Remedy Not Always a Bar

Workplace sexual assault is a pervasive issue that not only inflicts physical and emotional harm on victims but also poses complex legal questions regarding liability and compensation. This post aims to delve into the implications of Murphy v. ARA Services, Inc., mainly focusing on the inadequacy of workers’ compensation in addressing the full extent of harm suffered by victims, especially regarding pain and suffering damages and how the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy does not necessarily exclude tort claims.

In the Murphy case, the court grappled with the intersection of workplace sexual assault and the exclusive remedy provision under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act (“the Act”).

Background

In Murphy v. ARA Services, Inc., the plaintiff, Linda Murphy, was subjected to sexual molestation and abuse by her supervisor, Jack Meffert, while employed at ARA’s cafeteria. Despite repeated complaints to ARA about Meffert’s behavior, ARA allowed him to continue as supervisor. Murphy filed a lawsuit against ARA, alleging assault, battery, and negligence in hiring and retaining Meffert.

Exclusive Remedy Provision

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of ARA, citing the exclusive remedy provision of the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act. This provision states that the rights and remedies granted under the act exclude all other rights and remedies at common law or otherwise for the same injury. However, Murphy contested this ruling, arguing that her claim fell within an exception to the act.

Analysis

The court examined whether Murphy’s injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment, which is a prerequisite for coverage under the act. While acknowledging that Murphy’s injuries occurred during office hours and at her workplace, the court held that they did not arise out of her employment. 

It emphasized that for an injury to be compensable under the act, there must be a causal connection between the work conditions and the resulting injury.

Casual Connection and Personal Reasons Exception

The court determined that Murphy’s injuries were caused by the willful act of a third party (Meffert) for personal reasons, which is excluded from coverage under the act. It reasoned that the offensive conduct was not reasonably incidental to the character of Murphy’s employment as a cafeteria worker and that she would have been equally exposed to such hazards outside of her employment. 

Therefore, the court concluded that the exclusive remedy provision of the act did not bar Murphy’s claim.

Conclusion

Murphy v. ARA Services, Inc. highlights the complexities surrounding workplace sexual assault claims and the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy. While the act provides a framework for compensating employees for work-related injuries, there are exceptions for injuries caused by willful acts of third parties for personal reasons. 

As informed advocates, we can ensure claimants recover from the pain and suffering caused by workplace sexual assault outside the workers’ compensation framework.

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