Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, a case from the Supreme Court of California, involved an employee (“Plaintiff”) who was employed by a franchised pizza restaurant operated by Defendant. Defendant hired a male employee to work as a supervisor at the restaurant. Plaintiff was hired to serve costumers at the store.
Plaintiff filed lawsuit against Defendant, alleging that her supervisor had sexually harassed her anytime they worked the same shift. She claimed that he made lewd comments and gestures and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. She asked her supervisor to stop, but he continued to harass her, according to court records.
At this point, Plaintiff informed her father, who called police. He also called corporate offices of the pizza franchise and spoke with someone in human resources. Plaintiff did not return to work for one week. When she returned, her hours had been reduced, and she quit her job. It was Plaintiff’s belief that her hours were cut in retaliation for filing a complaint against her employer.
Her lawsuit contained various claims, including sexual harassment, failure to take reasonable steps to avoid harassment, and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. She also made common law claims of negligence, assault and battery, and emotional distress. She sought both compensatory and punitive damages. As our Charlotte personal injury lawyers can explain, compensatory damages, as the name implies, are designed to compensate an injured party for any damages caused by the defendant’s negligent or intentional conduct. These are the normal form of damages awarded under our legal system.
However, if the defendant engages in conduct which shows a willful and wanton disregard for the health and safety of others, the court may allow for the award of punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and to send a message to others in the defendant’s position that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.
In response to the complaint, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asking that the case be dismissed. The reason was that all of the claims related to the conduct of an employee. While an employer can be liable for the negligent conduct of an employee, Defendant claimed that it was not the supervisor’s employer. The national chain claimed that the individual store was operated by a franchisee that was actually the employer of the supervisor and not the company. In other words, the supervisor who allegedly harassed Plaintiff was not an agent of the company, but rather an agent of the franchisee that ran the day-to-day operations at the restaurant.
The trial court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. The Plaintiff appealed this decision, and the court of appeals for the state reversed the dismissal by the trial court. Defendant then appealed the case to the state supreme court, which ultimately reversed the state court of appeals.
While the court was sympathetic to Plaintiff in the majority opinion and considered sexual harassment at the workplace to be a serious issue, the court found that there was no agency relationship between the manager and the national chain.
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Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, Aug. 28, 2014, Supreme Court of California
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