by Gregory Williams, Esq. | Under Washington State law, may an employee enhance an intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claim against his/her employer, on account of a supervisor's actions, by addressing the positional relationship between the employee and supervisor? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).
Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) is also known as the tort of outrage. A tort is a civil wrong, other than breach of contract, for which remedies may be obtained. To prevail on a claim of outrage, a plaintiff must prove the following three elements:
- extreme and outrageous conduct
- intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, and
- severe emotional distress on the part of the plaintiff
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE PARTIES
Employee-plaintiffs occasionally bring outrage claims against their employers as a result of harmful actions by their supervisors. The Washington Supreme Court has recognized that "in an outrage claim the relationship between the parties is a significant factor in determining whether liability should be imposed." Robel v. Roundup Corporation, 148 Wn.2d at 52 (citing Contreras v. Crown Zellerbach Corp., 88 Wn.2d 735, 741, 565 P.2d 1173 (1977)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In Contreras, the "court emphasized that added impetus is given to an outrage claim when one in a position of authority, actual or apparent, over another has allegedly made racial slurs and jokes and comments." Id. (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted). To support this proposition, the Robel court also referenced White v. Monsanto Co., 585 So.2d 1205, 1210 (La.1991) wherein it was determined that "plaintiff's status as an employee may entitle him to a greater degree of protection from insult and outrage by a supervisor with authority over him than if her were a stranger." Robel v. Roundup Corporation, 148 Wn.2d at 52.
EXAMPLE: ROBEL v. ROUNDUP CORPORATION
In Robel v. Roundup Corporation, Robel was a deli worker at a grocery store who sustained a workplace injury and timely filed a workers' compensation claim. Robel, 148 Wn.2d 35 (Wash. 2002). Her employer placed her on light duty. Id. Thereafter, other employees, including her assistant deli manager, made fun of her, laughed, pointed, and gave her dirty looks; this included name calling. Id. Robel eventually secured a two-week work release from her doctor but never returned to work. Id. She eventually filed suit against the employer based, in part, on a claim of outrage. Id.
The trial court found for Robel, but the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court on all claims. Id. The Washington Supreme Court then reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the trial court's judgment for Robel on, inter alia, her outrage claim. Id. The Supreme Court found that Robel "was called in her workplace names so vulgar that they have acquired nicknames, such as 'the C word,' for example"; and it concluded that "reasonable minds could differ on whether the conduct was sufficiently extreme to warrant the imposition of liability on the employer." Id.
Under Washington State law, I believe that an employee can enhance an intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claim against his/her employer, on account of a supervisor's actions, by addressing the positional relationship between the employee and supervisor?
If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Attorney to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group, PS; please see our DISCLAIMER.