Texas Appellate Court Reverses Sexual Harassment Award, Saying Jury Should Have Been Allowed to Hear About Consensual Nature of Relationship

In most Dallas sexual harassment cases, the parties are both of age – that is, above the age of 18. Sometimes, however, the complaining party is underage, leading to additional complications.

Such was the case recently, when a mother brought suit on behalf of her minor daughter, who had allegedly been involved in a relationship with her older, married supervisor at work. At trial, the jury had been allowed to hear only limited testimony about the girl’s willing participation in the affair.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent appellate court case was the mother and next friend of a girl who was the victim of multiple criminal acts committed upon her by her workplace supervisor when she was 16 years old.  According to the plaintiff, the relationship between the girl and her supervisor began when he “bumped into her breasts” (an action for which he apologized) but escalated into a relationship that involved at least 40 instances of unprotected sexual intercourse. Although the actions were not forcible, they were nevertheless illegal owing to the victim’s minority.

The mother’s lawsuit asserted multiple claims, including a claim against the supervisor for sexual assault, against the supervisor’s manager for aiding and abetting, and against the restaurant for whom the supervisor and and the manager worked for the misconduct of its employees. The case was tried to a jury, which found in the plaintiff’s favor on all of the claims. The trial court entered a judgment in the plaintiff’s favor accordingly, and the defendants appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The court of appeals rendered a take-nothing judgment in part and reversed and remanded in part. With regard to the plaintiff’s common law assault claim against the defendant restaurant, the court found that the claim was preempted by statute (namely, the Texas Commission of Human Rights Act). Hence, a take-nothing judgment was rendered as to that claim. Likewise, the court of appeals found that a take-nothing judgment should be rendered as to the aiding and abetting claim against the defendant manager insomuch as such a claim did not exist under Texas common law and the plaintiff had not advanced reasons for recognition of such a claim in the instant case.

With regard to the remaining claims, the court of appeals was of the opinion that the trial court had been in error in its instructions to the jury, particularly with regard to the conduct of the girl. Because this error likely led to an improper judgment on the sexual assault claims against the supervisor and the restaurant, a new trial was required. According to the court of appeals, the jury should have been allowed to hear testimony regarding the consensual nature of the relationship between the girl and the supervisor, as this may have mitigated the damages resulting from the girl’s alleged constructive discharge due to a hostile work environment; thus a new trial was ordered on the plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim.

Dallas Employment Law Attorneys Defending Against Harassment Claims

The types of claims that may be asserted against a business in today’s litigious culture are seemingly innumerable. Vigilant attention to such issues and a prompt, assertive defense if a claim does arise are essential. To speak to an experienced Dallas employment law attorney about a sexual harassment case or related matter, please contact Key Harrington Barnes today at 214-615-7925. We will be happy to set up an appointment so that you can come in and discuss your matter of concern.

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