Alisha Bromfield lawsuit against Home Depot to move forward rules appellant court. What moral and legal obligations do employers have towards their employees?
A Chicago appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against Home Depot after the rape and murder of a pregnant employee by a male supervisor after a history of sexual harassment complaints which the vendor failed to ‘appropriately’ act on.
The lawsuit comes after Home Depot manager, Brian Cooper, 39 raped and murdered pregnant employee, Alisha Bromfield, 21, at a 2012 Wisconsin wedding reception after threatening to fire the worker if she failed to accept his invitation.
Along with the woman’s death, the expectant child was also killed said the victim’s mother who filed a civil lawsuit against Home Depot for failing to intervene on her daughter’s behalf and long time ago sacking the man.
In her wrongful death suit, the victim’s mother claimed that the retailer had a duty to protect her daughter against Cooper’s harassment.
The murder of Bromfield and her unborn baby led to the Cooper eventually being convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in July, 2014.
Having been struck down by a lower court, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted unanimously on Friday that Cooper had used the supervisory authority he wielded over Bromfield to force her to go to the wedding of his sister in Wisconsin.
At the time, the man who had been infatuated with Bromfield threatened to fire the Plainfield Illinois Home Depot florist if she didn’t go.
Having used his power as a supervisor to force the woman to attend the wedding reception where he later that evening murdered the woman, the court held that Home Depot and the co-defendants could be held liable for the employee’s deaths.
The fact that Bromfiled wasn’t killed at her place of work was not a motivating factor in the court’s decision, but rather the moral obligation to intervene and the understanding a failure to intervene was inviting Bromfield’s demise noted the chicagotribune.
A lower Chicago court originally ruled that Home Depot could not be responsible for Bromfield’s death. The judges echoed Home Depot’s argument that the retailer has “no obligation to fire or demote employees because of their ‘usage of inappropriate language, or sexual misconduct.'”
According to court filings, Bromfield had repeatedly told upper management of the escalating nature of sexual harassment against her and that the employee never wanted to be alone with Cooper. Protests which the appellant court said were serious enough for the employer to act on and had been negligent in its disregard of.
Whilst attended the wedding, Cooper had begged Alisha, who was seven months pregnant to be his girlfriend. After refusing her manager’s overtures, the woman went to sleep whilst Cooper continued drinking through the night, the next morning strangling Bromfield.
He later told detectives that Alisha, pleaded for the life of her baby. After the murder he then undressed and raped Broomfield’s corpse.
Cooper turned himself into police after an unsuccessful attempt at suicide with a butter knife and corkscrew following the murder. He then called 911, referring to Alisha as his girlfriend.
Cooper was sentence to life terms in jail with no possibility of parole in July of 2014.
The guilty verdict against Cooper came in a second trial after the first resulted in a hung jury, with Coopers lawyer claiming that his client killed Bromfield but that he was too impaired to intentionally strangle the girl.
After the mistrial Sherry Anicich, Bromfield’s mother led a campaign which lead to Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker revoking the intoxication defense in April of 2014 and the eventual conviction against Cooper.
In moving a civil suit against her daughter’s former employer, Anicich listed a series of events which highlighted the sexual predatory behavior of the Home Depot manager, including Cooper previously calling another female employee “his girlfriend,” repeatedly making “comments about his genitals to her and [rubbed] himself against her,” behavior that Cooper then shifted on Bromfield when she first started her job at Grand Flower.
The suit claims Cooper having called Bromfield a ‘whore’, after having been denied a day off work. A complaint to management led to Bromfield simply being sent home early. Following another incident, Cooper was required to go to anger management, but did not follow up on his treatment.
Reacting to the latest court decision, the National Women’s Law Center said, “Hearing such evidence, a reasonable jury could easily find that the employers could and should have foreseen that Cooper would take the small further step to violence.”
Reiterated Maya Raghu, the organization’s director of workplace equality, via Broadly: “Companies may fail to address sexual harassment in some cases because their sexual harassment policies and programs are inadequate, or perhaps because the company’s leadership fails to condemn such behavior in the strongest terms. Unfortunately, this discourages employees from complaining about harassment, and allows harassers to evade accountability.”