Washington County District Court File No. C2-02-7200.
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge.
A trial court properly denies summary judgment when disputed issues of material fact exist as to whether sexually motivated assaults occurring at the workplace fall within the assault exception to the Workers' Compensation Act.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge
In a denial of summary judgment, the district court rejected appellant East Side Beverage's contention that the Workers' Compensation Act provides respondent Nicole Stengel's sole remedy against her former employer for injuries resulting from sexually motivated assault and battery by co-workers and a supervisor. We affirm.
Appellant East Side Beverage is a beer distributor to liquor stores and bars in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Appellant employed respondent Nicole Stengel as a graphic designer of advertising signs for about two years. Respondent was responsible for producing "sign graphics" for on- and off-premise accounts, table tents, menus, stickers for tap handles, special event signs and posters, as well as a variety of other projects for appellant's customers. Appellant terminated respondent on December 19, 2001, for unsatisfactory performance.
Respondent brought suit against East Side Beverage's president and vice-president, individually, as well as her former employer, appellant East Side Beverage, for sexual discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Her complaint also included counts for common-law assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and numerous other claims. The alleged conduct which formed the basis for respondent's claims includes a co-worker sticking his finger in between the buttons of respondent's blouse, between her breasts, and moving his finger back and forth while saying "ding, ding, ding . . ."; another co-worker shoving his hand up her leg saying, "Oh, dead man's curve, I'd like to get some of that," and then grabbing respondent and reaching for her vagina; her supervisor leaning his body against hers and kissing her; and various other co-workers grabbing her buttocks, grabbing and snapping her bra, and slapping her backside with a rolled up sign.
Appellant moved the district court for summary judgment on all counts, arguing that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) provides an employee's exclusive remedy, and thus bars respondent's common-law claims for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In response, respondent argued that her injuries were excluded from coverage under the WCA by virtue of the WCA's "assault exception," because she was the victim of an intentional assault that was personal to her and unrelated to her employment.
The district court dismissed several of respondent's claims, but denied appellant's summary judgment motion with respect to respondent's common-law assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, finding that a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding the assailants' motives; specifically whether the alleged motivation to injure respondent was based on personal animosity toward her, arising from circumstances "wholly unconnected with the employment."*fn1