Anicich vs Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. — Part 1

Anicich vs Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. — Part 1 by Alan Krystal{4:36 minutes to read} On March 24, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, in the case of Anicich v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., issued a decision that may have a significant impact on employers. The court reversed the dismissal of a complaint brought by the estate of a woman murdered by her supervisor, who had an alleged history of harassment and sexual abuse.

The Complaint

The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that Home Depot, Inc and two companies that ran its garden center jointly employed Brian Cooper as a supervisor, a man with a known history of sexually harassing, verbally abusing, and physically intimidating his female subordinates. The plaintiff further alleged that the joint employers failed to take reasonable steps in response to:

  • Female employees’ complaints; and
  • Misbehavior observed by more senior managers.

The victim was a woman named Alisha Bromfield, who was seven months pregnant at the time of her death. Cooper’s treatment of Bromfield included:

  • Verbally abusing her while throwing things;
  • Controlling and monitoring her both during and outside her work hours; and
  • Requiring Bromfield to come with him on business trips.

After five years of that treatment, Cooper used his supervisory authority to require Bromfield to come on a personal trip to an out‐of‐state family wedding—by threatening to fire her or cut her hours if she refused. Bromfield complied and attended the wedding. Afterwards, Cooper took her to a hotel room and asked her to be in a relationship with him. When she refused, Cooper strangled Bromfield to death and then raped her corpse. The attack also resulted in the death of Bromfield’s unborn daughter.

Cooper’s Behavior:

Since Bromfield had started working for the defendants six years prior, Cooper swore at Bromfield in front of customers, threw objects at her and would deny her lunch breaks if she was going out to lunch with another man. Cooper started calling and texting her outside of work, pretending he wanted to talk about a work‐related issue to get her attention and to pressure her to spend time with him alone. Cooper also would force Bromfield to come with him on business trips, once insisting that they share a hotel room.

Management Response:

Bromfield complained repeatedly about Cooper to other supervisors and managers, stating that she did not want to be left alone with him. Cooper was ultimately ordered to take anger management classes, but he did not complete the course. Cooper confronted his human resources manager about the requirement and was ordered to attend additional anger management classes, but neither employer followed up to make sure he did so. Although the managers told Bromfield that they knew about Cooper’s behavior, he was permitted to remain as Bromfield’s supervisor.

Cooper had previously harassed another female employee, who he would introduce to others as his girlfriend, make comments about his genitals to her and rubbed himself against her. The employee complained to her group leader, who told her that other employees had complained about Cooper and that even the group leader herself stated she felt uncomfortable working with him. The employee eventually resigned.

Court Ruling

With respect to the subject case, the defendants then moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion but provided the Plaintiff leave to amend. After an amended complaint was filed, the defendants again moved to dismiss on the ground that they did not owe a duty of care to Bromfield. The district court dismissed the complaint, again granting leave to amend. The plaintiff chose to appeal, without trying to amend further.

In Part II of this article, we will look at the appeal of this ruling in more detail. 

Alan Krystal

 

Alan Krystal

Alan H. Krystal, P.C.
631 780 6555
Alan@AlanKrystalLaw.com

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