Sexual Misconduct Allegations Can Include the Employer

An employer can be brought into a lawsuit for allowing an "environment of permissiveness."

Risk Management

Sexual Misconduct Allegations Can Include the Employer

In a trial involving two D.C.s, the court allowed the plaintiff/patient to introduce evidence of the clinic's “environment” to support her claim.

Carol Romano, Esq., explains that the plaintiff alleged she was involved in an 18-month affair with her treating chiropractor, Dr. Warlass. The plaintiff also sued Dr. Parkhurst, the practice owner, based upon theories of negligent supervision and negligent retention.

During depositions in the litigation, witnesses testified that Dr. Warlass and Dr. Parkhurst consumed alcoholic beverages in the office after hours,often with staff and sometimes with patients. The plaintiff testified that Dr. Warlass often made comments about her underwear and exchanged hundreds of personal texts with her during the treatment period.

Dr. Warlass admitted he flirted with staff, but never with patients, and he adamantly denied the affair. The defendant doctors also admitted that they and the staff often used crude language in the office, sometimes of a sexual nature. However, they denied this occurred when patients were present.

Dr. Parkhurst argued that the drinking, flirting and crass language were not causally related to the affair because the alleged sexual contact did not occur on the premises. He asserted that the affair was wholly separate from what went on at the clinic. Therefore, any inappropriate behavior was irrelevant and inadmissible.

The court, however, allowed testimony and documents into evidence at trial, and refused to grant summary judgment on the negligent supervision claim. It ruled that Dr. Parkhurst allowed an “environment of permissiveness" that enabled the affair.

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