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Republican majority overturns unanimous 1996 decision on employer liability

In 1996, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously decided that in certain circumstances, the employer should be responsible for an employee's violation of a citizen's civil rights--even if the employee was acting ultra vires or outside his employment duties, when the wrong was committed.  That case was Champion v. Nation Wide Security and involved the rape of an employee by her supervisor.  The issue came up again this year after Tara Hamed was arrested for non-payment of child support.  Her Wayne County jailor transferred her to an unsurveilled area of the jail and then "violently raped" her.

The jailor had been guilty of a similar transgression 13 years earlier.  Hamed sued the rapist and the Wayne County Sheriff's Department. Obviously, her only realistic recourse was against the County, since the rapist had no substantial assets, was convicted and imprisoned for rape, and homeowners insurance coverage always excludes intentional criminal acts.  She maintained that under the Champion case, the County Sheriff was liable for the deputy's actions because it was responsible for placing the deputy in a  position to take advantage of her.

In Champion, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously rejected the employer's argument that it should not be responsible for the employee's wrongful actions:  "...when an employer gives its supervisors certain authority over other employees [or in this case, prisoners] it must also accept responsibility to remedy the harm caused by the supervisors' unlawful exercise of that authority."  A contrary result would "create an enormous loophole in the [Civil rights] statute" that would "defeat [its] remedial purpose."

This was good law in 1996, when the Supreme Court unanimously approved this language.  It remains good law and good policy today--but has now been repudiated by four judicial activists eager to grant immunity to large corporations and government when individual citizens are victimized.  This young woman was raped by a man in a position of authority who was able to impose his will because of powers given to him by Wayne County, despite his history of similar behavior.  The County, and not a woman guilty of nothing more than falling behind on payment of child support, should bear the cost of his malfeasance.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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