Lawsuit Against Property Owner Alleges Conspiracy in Connection with Sexual Assault Claim

The employment statutes that protect workers from sexual harassment and other unlawful workplace practices generally hold employers liable for the actions of individual managers, supervisors, and employees. It is also possible to assert a claim against an individual who was directly involved in harassment, or who encouraged or supported such behavior. A currently pending federal lawsuit, which involves several well-known media figures, alleges conspiracy against one defendant. The plaintiff claims that this defendant knew that the other defendant intended to assault her and that he helped facilitate it. Goins v. Cosby, et al., No. 2:16-cv-03523, am. complaint (C.D. Cal., Jun. 15, 2016). While the case does not involve an employment relationship, it offers an idea of claims that might be possible.

Employment statutes like the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) provide remedies for people who have experienced sexual harassment and other types of harassment at work. In particularly egregious cases of alleged sexual harassment, a person may also want to assert common-law tort claims, such as assault, battery, or intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

Although sexual harassment is often portrayed as merely the actions of certain oafish individuals, this type of behavior does not appear out of nowhere. Many statutes allow a complainant to assert claims against people who did not directly engage in sexual harassment, if they somehow enabled such behavior. This includes claims for aiding and abetting unlawful employment practices, or attempts to do so, under both the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(6), N.Y.C. Admin. Law § 8-107(6).

A conspiracy claim makes it possible to hold multiple people liable for a tortious act. New York does not recognize “conspiracy” as a distinct cause of action, but a plaintiff may be able to further another cause of action by alleging conspiracy, if they include “allegations of overt acts, and resulting injury.” Charney v Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, 2007 NY Slip Op 51832, quoting Keller v. Levy, 265 A.D. 723, 724 (N.Y. App. 1st Dept. 1943). Used this way, a civil conspiracy claim enables a plaintiff to connect multiple defendants to an alleged tort and “render all defendants liable for each other’s acts in furtherance thereof, and thus broaden liability.” Id.

The plaintiff in Goins is one of many women who have alleged that the comedian Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them, usually after drugging them by putting something in a drink. In addition to multiple tort claims against Cosby, she is also claiming that Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, is liable for conspiracy to commit sexual battery and gender violence. She alleges that the assault by Cosby took place during a party at Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, where she was an invited guest.

The plaintiff states in her complaint that Hefner personally introduced her to Cosby. She alleges that she drank some of a drink Cosby gave to her, and that when both defendants observed that she was “woozy,” Hefner suggested she “go and ‘lie down’ in a bedroom at the residence.” Goins, am. complaint at 2. She believes that this is where the alleged assault took place, and she argues that Hefner should be held liable along with Cosby.

The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent New York City job applicants, employees, and former employees in claims for a wide range of unlawful employment practices under federal, state, and city laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled employee rights advocate, contact us today through our website or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Former Teacher at New York City Day Care Center Alleges Sexual Harassment in Federal Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 27, 2016

New York City Antidiscrimination Agency Will Assist Immigrant Crime Victims in Obtaining Special Visas, Which Could Help with Sexual Harassment Claims, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 13, 2016

Sexual Harassment and the Yoga Industry in New York City and Around the Country, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 27, 2016

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