Rape Victim Not Limited to Workers’ Compensation Claim

When a restaurant manager who was working in a locked back office was raped after a robbery, the injuries did not arise out of her employment and she was not limited to a workers’ compensation claim.

In Doe v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc., No. W2016-01817-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2017), plaintiff brought suit after being raped in the restaurant’s office. Plaintiff was a hospitality manager at defendant restaurant, and on the night of the incident “she was in the restaurant’s office performing closing procedures with the door to the office locked.” She answered a knock on the door, and a masked man entered the office, had her open the office safe, took the money from the safe, then moved her to a chair, restrained her and raped her. The man was later identified as a restaurant employee who had left work that evening, “jammed the emergency door to prevent it from closing,” and changed in his vehicle before committing the robbery and rape.

Plaintiff brought suit against defendant restaurant for various tort claims, including intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent hiring, intentional misrepresentation, misrepresentation by concealment, vicarious liability, and constructive discharge. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that “[b]ecause Plaintiffs’ claims arose out of and in the course of her employment, workers’ compensation [was] Plaintiffs’ exclusive remedy against P.F. Chang’s.” The Trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

When an employee is injured in Tennessee, “[t]he remedies provided by the workers’ compensation law are exclusive if the injury arose out of and in the course of employment.” (internal citation omitted).

To qualify as a compensable workers’ compensation claim, the injury must both ‘arise out of’ and occur ‘in the course of’ employment. …The phrase, ‘in the course of,’ refers to time and place, and ‘arising out of,’ to cause or origin; and an injury by accident to an employee is ‘in the course of’ employment if it occurred while he was performing a duty he was employed to do; and it is an injury ‘arising out of’ employment if caused by a hazard incident to such employment.

(internal citations and quotations omitted). Here, the parties agreed that the incident occurred while plaintiff was at work, so the issue was whether it “arose out of” her employment with defendant restaurant.

Regarding the criteria that the injury “arise out of” employment, Tennessee courts have stated:

An injury arises out of employment when there is apparent to the rational mind, upon consideration of all the circumstances, a causal connection between the conditions under which the work was required to be performed and the resulting injury. …Generally, for an injury to arise out of employment, it must emanate from a peculiar danger or risk inherent to the nature of the employment. …When an injury is purely coincidental, contemporaneous, or collateral with the employment, it will not be considered as arising out of the employment.

(internal citations and quotations omitted).

Looking at the facts surrounding the rape of plaintiff, the Court noted that the rape occurred after plaintiff had complied with requests to open the safe and after the robbery was completed. The Court found that “the sexual assault was not a risk inherent to [plaintiff’s] employment or a condition under which her work was required to be performed,” and held that “there [was] not a sufficient nexus or causal connection between the injuries arising from the sexual assault and the nature of [plaintiff’s] employment.” Thus, her claim was not limited to workers’ compensation. In so holding, the Court differentiated the current case from situations where sexual assaults have been deemed to fall under workers’ compensation when the plaintiffs were “exposed to the general public at the time of the assault” due to the nature or requirements of their work.

The Court of Appeals correctly analyzed this case. Being raped should not be considered an inherent risk of working in an office in a restaurant, and plaintiff was rightly allowed to continue with her tort claims.