SUPERVISOR WHO PLACED FEMALE EMPLOYEE IN POSITION RENDERING HER VULNERABLE TO SEXUAL ADVANCES HELD PERSONALLY LIABLE FOR FRAUD
While not controlling authority in Nevada, employers should be aware of a
recent Supreme Court of Montana decision in which a supervisor was found to
have committed fraud, rendering him personally liable for damages.
Kimberli Beaver was a seasonal wild lands firefighter for the Montana
Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Michael Ness was a unit
fire supervisor, as well as Beaver’s immediate supervisor. Ness and Beaver
left on a work related trip to a neighboring county to complete some
fire-related service contracts. Beaver expected to return home that same day
and was unprepared to spend the night. However, at 8:30 p.m., Ness informed
Beaver that they would be spending the night in order to finish their work
the next morning. Ness also informed Beaver that he had already checked into
a single room at the Tenderfoot Motel that had two single beds.
While in the room together, Ness attempted to give Beaver a “Chinese foot
massage;” rubbed her shoulders and attempted to stick his hands underneath
the back of her shirt, asking if she wanted her back rubbed; put his arms
around her and forced her down on the bed, lying on top of her so that she
was unable to free herself, and attempted to kiss her; and continually tried
to stick his hand on Beaver’s inner thigh. Beaver repeatedly told Ness that
he needed to stop and go to his own bed.
After Beaver reported the incident, Ness was eventually terminated. Beaver
obtained psychological counseling and was diagnosed with post-traumatic
stress disorder. She subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Department and
Ness. While the court found that the single incident of sexual assault did
not amount to a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, it did find that Ness made false representations, engaged in
deliberate planning in order to put Beaver in a position vulnerable to his
sexual advances, and caused Beaver psychological harm. Based on these facts,
the court found that Ness committed fraud.
This case is an important reminder to supervisors, managers, and executives
that, while there may be no individual liability under Title VII, they can
be personally liable for harassing conduct under state law causes of action,
including intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud.
Beaver v. Montana Dept. of Natural Res. and Conservation, No.
01-534, 2003 WL 22332373 (Mont. Oct. 13, 2003).