The Texas Supreme Court has issued a ruling in a closely watched sexual harassment case involving a woman who charged co-worker sexual harassment and common-law failure to supervise.
The court said that because the underlying facts were the same for both claims, the woman could sue only for sexual harassment.
Recent case: Cathie Williams sued her former employer, the Waffle House, for sexual harassment under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), and also for common-law negligent supervision and retention.
The basis for her claim was that a co-worker constantly made sexual comments, brushed against her and leered at her. She said her complaints to managers and to the corporation were ignored.
A jury sided with Williams on all claims, and awarded her the most damages (including more than $3 million in punitive damages) available under the common-law count. She elected to take the common-law damages, which the court then reduced to just under $900,000.
Waffle House appealed, arguing that the TCHRA was Williams’ exclusive remedy. The Texas Supreme Court agreed that it was in this case. (Waffle House v. Williams, No. 07-0205, Supreme Court of Texas, 2010)
Final note: The court did leave open the possibility that harassed employees can sue harassers directly. It also noted that if a case involves an alleged assault, employees may be able to sue for physical assault. But in this case, the harassment involved “boorish and objectionable” conduct, not physical assault.
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