Can A Sexual Harassment Victim Bring A Battery Claim Against The Sexual Harasser?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) protect employees against sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, as our Alachua County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys have learned, circumstances sometimes prevent sexual harassment victims from bringing or prevailing on otherwise meritorious sexual harassment lawsuits against employers. Generally, these circumstances arise through no fault of the sexual harassment victim.
For example, both Title VII and the FCRA require that an employer employ fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or proceeding calendar year in order for the statutes to apply to the employer. Consequently, if a sexual harassment victim’s employer does not employ the requisite number of employees, the employer is immune from liability for sexual harassment under Title VII and the FCRA. Because the employer is immune from liability under Title VII and the FCRA, the sexual harassment victim is prohibited from bringing or prevailing on an otherwise meritorious sexual harassment lawsuit against the employer.
As another example, Title VII and the FCRA require employees claiming sexual harassment to file a charge of discrimination against the employer with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days from the last act of sexual harassment or with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) within 365 days from the last act of sexual harassment. Consequently, if the sexual harassment victim does not file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or FCHR within the applicable limitations period, his or her sexual harassment claim is barred by the statute of limitations. Because the claim is barred by the statute of limitations, the sexual harassment victim is prohibited from bringing or prevailing on an otherwise meritorious sexual harassment lawsuit against the employer.
Touching Of Intimate Body Part Is A Battery
Regardless of whether circumstances prevent a sexual harassment victim for bringing or prevailing on a sexual harassment lawsuit against his or her employer under Title VII or the FCRA, a sexual harassment victim can still bring a battery claim under Florida law against the sexual harasser. A battery for purposes of Florida law, as observed by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals in Paul v. Holbrook, 696 So.2d 1311 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997), “consists of the infliction of a harmful or offensive contact upon another with the intent to cause such contact or the apprehension that such contact is imminent.” As the Paul court also determined, no evidence of an intention to cause harm is necessary to establish a battery claim. In the sexual harassment context, a battery generally occurs when the sexual harasser touches an intimate body party of the victim.
When the sexual harasser touches an intimate body party of the victim, the victim has a meritorious battery claim against the sexual harasser. A sexual harassment victim can assert a battery claim against the sexual harasser in the same lawsuit asserting a sexual harassment claim against the employer. A sexual harassment victim can also assert a battery claim against the sexual harasser in an independent lawsuit when circumstances prevent the victim from bringing or prevailing on an otherwise meritorious sexual harassment lawsuit against the employer. The decision by the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Myers v. Central Florida Investments, Inc., 592 F.3d 1201 (11th Cir. 2010) is instructive in showing that a sexual harassment victim can bring a battery claim against the sexual harasser regardless of whether circumstances prevent the victim for bringing or prevailing on a sexual harassment claim against the employer under Title VII or the FCRA.
Employee Endures A Sustained Campaign Of Harassment
In Myers, Dawn Myers (Myers) claimed that she was subjected to a sustained five-year campaign of sexually harassing behavior by the president and sole shareholder, a man named Siegel, of Central Florida Investments, Inc. (CFI). CFI is a real estate company whose primary business is the development and sale of time-share resorts throughout the United States.
Myers began working for CFI in 1986 as a salesperson. Siegel’s alleged sexually harassing behavior began in 1995 when he twice offered, at CFI functions and in Myers’ presence, one million dollars to Myers’ boyfriend to spend the night with Myers. From there, Siegel’s alleged sexual behavior towards Myers involved offers to buy her lavish gifts if she agreed to date him, touching her buttocks, fondling her legs, remarks about her breasts and buttocks, sexual propositions, and exposing himself. The alleged sexual harassment occurred when they were alone and when other CFI employees were present.
Myers claimed that she complained about Siegel’s sexual behavior to a number of company executives, but claimed they were of little help. In fact, Myers alleged that CFI’s director of human resources told her, “what are you going to do, he’s the president of the company.” Myers was suspended in December of 2000, and her employment with CFI was terminated later that month. In September 2001, Myers filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. After the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue, Myers brought a sexual harassment claim against CFI pursuant to Title VII and the FCRA in a Florida federal court. In her lawsuit, Myers also brought a claim against Myers for battery.
Employee Awarded Compensatory & Punitive Damages
Following a six-day trial, the jury found that none of the alleged acts of sexual harassment by Siegel against Myers occurred within 300 days as required by Title VII or within 365 days as required by the FCRA from the date of the filing of Myers’ charge of discrimination. As a result, the trial court ruled that Myers’ claim sexual harassment claim against CFI was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. However, the jury awarded Myers $102,223 in compensatory damages and $5,276,640 in punitive damages for her battery claim against Siegel. On post-trial motions, the punitive damages award was capped under Florida’s state law to $500,000.
On appeal, CFI and Siegel claimed that Myers was not entitled under Florida law to an award of punitive damages on a battery claim. In rejecting this contention, the Eleventh Circuit explained that “decades of Florida case law have made it clear that a finding of battery is sufficient to trigger punitive damages.” CFI and Siegel further argued on appeal that the amount of compensatory and punitive damages awarded by the jury was excessive. In rejecting this argument, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned that “given the many years during which Siegel touched and harassed Myers in the workplace, his repeated and public humiliations of her, and his refusal to desist despite her repeated requests,” the amount of compensatory and punitive damages awarded by the jury was not excessive.
Free Consultation With Alachua County Sexual Harassment Attorneys
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have extensive experience representing employees who have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work or have questions about pursuing a battery claim against a sexual harasser, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Alachua County, Florida sexual harassment lawyers. Our employee rights law firm takes sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.