By Darren M. Sharp |
Recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a student’s claims against a local school district for the sexual misconduct of one of its football coaches. In the case, the student sued both the individual coach and the school district for the coach’s actions. While the student’s claims directly against the coach appear to have been settled, the school district argued that it was not liable for the coach’s abuse because the abuse did not occur “within the scope of office or employment” and because it was not foreseeable. The school district argued that it had no prior warning of any tendencies or past misconduct of the coach that would have indicated that it was necessary to either terminate his employment or more carefully supervise his work. The court of appeals agreed and re-affirmed the legal standard at issue:
“[T]o make out a successful claim for negligent supervision, the plaintiff must prove (1) the employee’s conduct was foreseeable; and (2) the employer failed to exercise ordinary care when supervising the employee.” C.B. by L.B. v. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Am., 726 N.W.2d 127, 136 (Minn. App. 2007) (quotations omitted). Therefore, to succeed on a claim of either negligence or negligent supervision, a plaintiff must prove that the risk in question was foreseeable.
Jane Doe 175 v. Columbia Heights School District, ISD No. 13 and Christopher Lloyd Warnke, File No. 02-CV-11-7667 at 13 (Jan. 4, 2016). The court went on to state that “[i]n the context of negligence and negligent supervision claims [against an employer], foreseeability means a level of probability which would lead a prudent person to take effective precautions.” Id. (quotation omitted).
Minnesota courts have found that, unlike in Warnke, harassment by an employee is reasonably foreseeable for the employer. For example, if the employer had received previous reports that an employee had harassed or threatened female employees, the employee’s harassment of another female employee was reasonably foreseeable. See, e.g. Oslin v. State, 543 N.W.2d 408, 415 (Minn. Ct. App. 1996). Holding employers accountable for their participation in, or negligence in allowing, sexual abuse and other misconduct is essential for the protection of students and employees alike.
Regardless of the result in Warnke, often victims of sexual misconduct have viable legal remedies available to them. Beyond the tort claims of negligence and negligent supervision, employees and students can hold companies, non-profit and religious organizations, and government entities accountable for sexual misconduct and other abuse under a variety of legal theories in Minnesota. For example, both state and federal civil rights laws prohibit sexual harassment and state tort law also provides a range of options for prosecuting claims for harassment and abuse. Prosecuting these claims can help benefit not only the victim of the abuse, but also help prevent an employer from allowing something similar to happen to others. At Schaefer Halleen, LLC, we have extensive experience in advocating on behalf of victims of such abuse and we continue to fight to hold the perpetrators and employers who negligently fail to prevent the harassment and abuse from happening in the first place accountable.
Darren M. Sharp is a senior attorney at Schaefer Halleen, LLC, where he represents clients primarily in employment law, condominium law, and other litigation.
In the employment law field, Darren concentrates his practice on discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation claims with a portfolio of clients ranging from manual laborers to senior corporate executives. He also regularly enforces medical leave rights and protects from retaliation employees who refuse to engage in illegal conduct or who report such conduct. Another principal focus of his practice is analyzing and providing advice regarding employment contracts, non-compete agreements, and severance agreements.