Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Third Circuit ruling partially vindicates former Pathfinder employee. By Walter Pierce

It reads like a bad script for a bad movie, but for Nakia Edmond it was anything but. Sexually assaulted by four male coworkers at his work site at Pathfinder Energy in October of 2008, Edmond later filed suit. A district court judge in Lafayette, however, sided with Pathfinder and dismissed his claims.

But Edmond will get a second crack at vindication: The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal recently reversed in part Judge Marilyn Castle’s ruling in favor of Pathfinder and sent Edmond’s case back to Lafayette. In the meantime, however, the case could wind up before the state supreme court.

As the appeals court writes in its opinion, “It is undisputed that the incident in the present case occurred during the course of Mr. Edmond’s employment and on the employer’s premises.”

That incident, according to the blow-by-blow in the 3rd Circuit ruling, is a stomach-turner. We’re omitting a few lurid details here because they are simply too graphic, although they are part of the public record:

“[W]hile on a break, Mr. Edmond was told by his supervisor to go back into the shop... [T]he only workers present were the four other members of the crew Mr. Edmond was assigned to. As he went inside, Mr. Edmond stated he was attacked by his supervisor and the three other workers on the crew... forced to the ground and held there by two of the men. His pants were then pulled down... According to Mr. Edmond, when the event was over, the four men were laughing at him and teasing him... A few days later, he contacted human resources and also reported the attack to the Broussard Police Department.

“Eventually, after an internal investigation ... Pathfinder terminated the four individuals involved in the attack. Since the attack, Mr. Edmond has been under medical care and has been unable to return to work...”

Edmond claims in the suit that the 2008 attack was the culmination of repeated harassment at Pathfinder by its employees — harassment he never reported. But the appeals court agreed with Castle’s ruling that because Pathfinder had a harassment policy and a human resources department with which to file complaints, Edmond’s failure to do so negated his hostile work environment claim because human resources was unaware of Edmond’s situation, and when he did finally report the attack it took appropriate action. But the court overturned Castle’s summary judgment against Edmond’s vicarious liability claim, ordering the case back to Lafayette for a trial on the merits of the claim.

However, Mandeville-based attorney Tobin Eason, who represents Pathfinder, tells ABiz he filed an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 13 — a move that effectively puts the Lafayette trial on hold until the high court either rules on the appeal or declines to hear the case. It will likely be up to six months before that happens. The attorney for Edmond did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

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