Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Nightmare Trend for Employers: Turning Every Minor Slight Into a Lawsuit

[A] propos[ed change by the American Law Institute] has gained traction — one that could make any touch (even non-sexual touches) a civil liability if someone so chooses.  
The proposal, a Restatement of Torts relating to assault and battery, was approved by the organization's members last month. 
This proposal would change the definition of battery from something a "reasonable person" would deem as "offensive" to any contact that offends the "unusually sensitive sense of personal dignity, and the actor knows that the contact will be highly offensive to the other." 
The Wall Street Journal gives an example of such contact: A hospital patient says he doesn't want to be touched by any Jewish doctors or nurses. Under ALI's new restatement, the hospital might be sued successfully if it fails to accommodate such a preference.  
"Thus if the trial takes place in a community with a significant Muslim population, the hospital will be more likely to settle — an outcome that will encourage religious bigotry," WSJ reporter Ronald Rotunda wrote. 
That's because the final draft removed the words "or religion" from its explanation of why the bigot would or would not be placated. Originally, the draft said: "if the patient had demanded that she not be touched by a nurse or doctor of a particular race or religion, the hospital and medical staff have no obligation to respect that preference." But it was updated to make religious bigotry acceptable. 
Another example from WSJ would be a John Doe tapping a veiled Muslim woman's shoulder to get her attention and ask for directions. He, under the new ALI restatement, could be sued for battery because he should have known that Muslim women cannot be touched by non-family members. Of course, if she tapped his shoulder, she would not be held liable under the new restatement. 
But it's not just religious sensitivities that would be covered under the new restatement — anyone who is easily offended (or especially litigious) would instantly have grounds to sue people for innocent behavior. 
"In North Carolina, an employee sued his supervisor for assault and battery because the supervisor, in his own office, smoked a cigar. There was no company rule against that, but the employee had warned the supervisor that he found cigar smoking 'obnoxious,' " Rotunda wrote. "A state court dismissed the case (McCracken v. Sloan, 1979) because the employee's 'mental distress' was not enough for assault and battery. The American Law Institute says: 'This case would very likely result in liability today.'" ...