Law Review: Telling a 13-year-old rape victim it was her fault exceeds bounds of decency
This is a sad case of a 13-year-old girl who was drugged and raped by a 30-year-old employee of Trinity Christian Center (“TCC”) of Santa Ana, then told by her grandmother, an officer and director of TCC, that she was stupid and it was her fault.
The reason for writing this column is to demonstrate Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and Respondent Superior, where an employer is responsible when an employee commits acts within the course and scope of his or her authority.
TCC runs (supposedly the largest) Christian broadcasting empire — Trinity Broadcasting Network (“TBN”): “offering Christian-inspired guidelines to help viewers around the world improve their lives.”
13-YEAR-OLD DRUGGED AND RAPED
The 13-year-old girl was drugged and raped by an employee of TCC. The girl’s grandmother was an officer and director of TCC and in charge of a TCC-sponsored telethon. The grandmother took the girl to the event. Through no fault of her own, the girl was drugged and then raped by the 30-year-old employee while attending the telethon event.
When the grandmother was told of the rape, she yelled at the girl, called her stupid and told her she was at fault. The girl, of course, was traumatized and later diagnosed with child sexual abuse and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As a psychiatrist later testified, the girl’s difficulties as a teenager and young adult were because: she was raped, her grandmother blamed it on her, the incident was not reported and she was never given any treatment.
Several years later, the girl sued those responsible, including TCC, for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for vicarious liability — being responsible for the acts of its key employee, the grandmother.
To recover for a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress one must prove “extreme and outrageous conduct with reckless disregard of the possibility of causing emotional distress.” And the conduct must have caused severe emotional distress.
Outrageous conduct that is “so extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community.”
The grandmother had the nerve to defend claiming, “(the girl) endured nothing more than insults, petty indignities, annoyances and grandmotherly scolding.” Not very Christian.
RULING ON INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS
The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal did not mince words on the girl’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. “We do not hesitate to exclaim ‘Outrageous!’ when presented with the facts of (the grandmother’s) behavior toward (the girl). Flying into a tirade at a 13-year-old girl who had been drugged and raped and yelling at her that she was stupid, and it was her fault is extreme and outrageous conduct that exceeds that bounds of decency tolerated in a civilized community. Such conduct is not mere insults, indignities, petty oppressions or other trivialities. At age 13, (the girl) suffered a horrible, traumatic, and life-altering experience. Yelling at her that she was stupid, and it was her fault was cruel, intolerable and obviously certain to produce severe emotional harm.”
IS THE EMPLOYER LIABLE?
Under the legal doctrine known as respondeat superior, an employer is liable for the torts (wrongdoings) of its employees committed within the scope of their employment, sometimes even willful and malicious acts not authorized by the employer.
The conduct of an employee falls within the scope of his or her employment if the conduct either is required or is incidental to the employee’s duties or it is reasonably foreseeable in light of the employer’s business. That’s the black letter law.
The Court of Appeal ruled that it was entirely foreseeable that someone injured in connection with a corporate event would report the injury to the corporate official in charge of the event, in this case the grandmother. As such it is “also foreseeable that the corporate official could and would respond to the report in a tortious (wrongful) manner making the corporate employer liable under respondeat superior theory.”
The trial court’s award of $900,000 against Trinity Christian Center was upheld, and appropriately so.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.