In some instances, an employee who suffers sexual harassment at work may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits, at least when they allege that the harassment led to “bodily injury.” However, filing for Workers’ Compensation may preclude victims of sexual harassment from also filing a civil lawsuit on the basis of the sexual harassment. This is because pursuant to New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Act, employees relinquish their right to pursue civil remedies in exchange for automatic entitlement to certain, but reduced benefits when they are injured on-the-job. But if a victim can demonstrate that they suffered an “intentional wrong” as defined by N.J.S.A. 34:15-8, they can proceed with both types of claims.
A recently decided case squarely addressed these issues, Louis v. Burger King Corp. (A-1000-14T2, App. Div. Dec. 4, 2015). A woman was working at a Burger King in the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, New Jersey. As she was performing work in the walk-in freezer, her assistant manager followed her in and fondled her. While this was going on, the restaurant manager opened the door, saw what was happening, and walked out. As a result of the intrusion, the assistant manager stopped harassing the woman and left, but later in the day he assaulted her again. Afterward, the manager reported the woman’s allegations to the district manager and an investigation was conducted. The woman stopped working for Burger King two weeks after the alleged incident.
The woman brought a Workers’ Compensation claim against QQR, the owner of the Burger King establishment, alleging workplace injuries and sexual assault. The case was settled for $7,500. She also brought a civil lawsuit against the assistant manager, Burger King Corp., QQR, and the manager. The assistant manager settled with the woman, and the claims against Burger King were dismissed. The remaining defendants argued that the woman could not proceed with her civil suit because she had already settled her Workers’ Compensation claim. The Appellate Division agreed, and ruled that the woman could not file a civil lawsuit because the manager did not commit an “intentional wrong.” The court felt that the manager merely acted negligently by failing to intervene and stop the misconduct—but he did not intentionally harm the woman.
If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual harassment at work, the knowledgeable New Jersey Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Shebell & Shebell can help. We can assess your case and advise you whether to proceed with a Workers’ Compensation claim, a civil law suit, or both. For a free consultation, call us at 732-532-2011 or contact us online today.