Texas Supreme Court rules that sexual assault is different than sexual harassment

On February 24, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court (in B.C. v. Steak ‘n Shake Operations, Inc.) issued a much-awaited decision, ruling that employees who are sexually assaulted at work by a supervisor can bring a lawsuit immediately against their employer for a common-law assault claim, rather than trying to navigate through the employer-friendly, time-consuming, damages-capped, often futile process of first asserting an administrative claim of harassment with the EEOC or TWC, followed by a difficult standard to prove that the employer should be responsible.

The Court distinguished its 2010 Waffle House decision where it had ruled that the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act is the exclusive way to pursue a claim of workplace sexual harassment.  The TCHRA requires the filing of a charge of discrimination (which means waiting at least six months while government employees twiddle their thumbs supposedly “investigating” the allegations) before filing a lawsuit, followed by a high burden and strict damages caps.  In this Steak ‘n Shake case, the court essentially confirmed that sexual assault by a supervisor at work is different than sexual harassment (or a hostile work environment). No shit.

This decision is practically common sense for non-lawyers; however, for years employers have been able to avoid liability in serious and egregious situations where their management-level employees could literally get away with sexually assaulting their employees.  Employees will now finally be able to assert common law assault claims immediately, are more likely to have their day in court much sooner, and not be subjected to the TCHRA’s damages cap.

 The Court’s decision can be found here.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted at work, contact Sud Law P.C. for a confidential case evaluation.