United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
FAVORITE FARMS, INC., Defendant. AND EULALIA SALAZAR-SANTIAGO, Intervenor-Plaintiff,
S. MOODY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JLDGE
cause came on for consideration upon Defendant Favorite
Farms, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Counts V, VI and VIII of
Intervenor-Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Dkt. 28) and
Intervenor-Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (Dkt. 33).
Upon consideration of the motion, response, and being
otherwise advised in the premises, the Court concludes that
the motion should be denied.
31, 2017, Plaintiff United States Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed this
lawsuit against Defendant Favorite Farms, Inc. under Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil
Rights Act of 1991 (Dkt. 1). The claims are premised on a
hostile work environment based on sex and retaliation by
Intervenor-Plaintiff Eulalia Salazar-Santiago's direct
supervisor and Favorite Farms' employee, Hector Cruz. The
complaint seeks to “provide appropriate relief to
Charging Party [Salazar-Santiago] who was adversely affected
by such practices.” Id. The complaint alleges
that Cruz subjected Salazar-Santiago to “unwelcome
sexual comments, forcible physical contact, and rape.”
November 7, 2017, the Court entered an Order granting
Salazar-Santiago's motion to intervene (Dkt. 18).
Salazar-Santiago's amended complaint alleges, in relevant
part, claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction
of emotional distress (“IIED”) against Favorite
Farms (Counts V, VI, and VIII respectively) (Dkt.
respect to the claims of battery and assault,
Salazar-Santiago alleges the following facts: during the
relevant time, Salazar-Santiago was working for Favorite
Farms as a “seasonal worker” conducting field
labor; Salazar-Santiago resided with her two children in
housing that Favorite Farms provided and leased to her during
her employment; Cruz, who was Salazar-Santiago's
supervisor, worked as Favorite Farms' crew leader;
Cruz's duties included assigning the field laborers to
apartments in housing units provided by Favorite Farms; Cruz
visited Salazar-Santiago's apartment and stated that he
needed to inspect it to determine whether there was room to
move two additional people into the apartment; during the
inspection, Cruz pushed Salazar-Santiago into a bedroom and
raped her; Salazar-Santiago reported the rape to Favorite
Farms' management but, to her knowledge, Favorite Farms
took no disciplinary action against Cruz and Cruz continued
to serve as crew leader.
Farms moves to dismiss the claims of battery and assault
under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Favorite Farms argues that the allegations are insufficient
to establish its liability for the intentional torts that
Cruz allegedly committed against Salazar-Santiago. For the
reasons stated below, the Court concludes that these claims
are adequately pled because Salazar-Santiago has alleged
facts that Cruz accomplished the torts by virtue of his
employer/employee relationship with Favorite Farms.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a complaint to be
dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. When reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must
accept all factual allegations contained in the complaint as
true, and view the facts in a light most favorable to the
plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
93-94 (2007). However, unlike factual allegations,
conclusions in a pleading “are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129
S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). On the contrary, legal conclusions
“must be supported by factual allegations.”
Id. Indeed, “conclusory allegations,
unwarranted factual deductions or legal conclusions
masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.”
Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1185
(11th Cir. 2003).
Farms argues that it cannot be vicariously liable for
Cruz's actions because Cruz acted outside of the scope of
employment when he raped Salazar-Santiago. Although,
generally speaking, a sexual assault typically falls outside
the scope of an employee's service to the employer, the
inquiry is fact-intensive and Florida recognizes an exception
to the general rule if the employee/tortfeasor accomplished
the tort by virtue of the employer/employee relationship.
See, e.g., Doe v. St. John's Episcopal Par.
Day Sch., Inc., 997 F.Supp.2d 1279, 1288-89 (M.D. Fla.
2014); DK v. School Bd. Of Manatee Cnty, Fla., No.
8:14-cv-2329-T-33TBM, 2014 WL 5473578, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Oct.
Doe, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant's
employee, who was both a teacher and a priest, used his
position of authority to manipulate and sexually abuse the
plaintiff, who was a student. Id. at 1289. The court
denied the employer's motion to dismiss, which had argued
that the employer could not be vicariously liable for the
employee's intentional torts. The court relied on
Florida's exception to the general rule that applies when
the tort arises from the employment/employee relationship.
The court noted that the allegations reflected that the
teacher used his position as an employee of the employer as a
pathway to abuse the plaintiff. See id.
in DK, the employee used his position of authority
as a “Parent Liaison” of the defendant employer
as a means to sexually assault the plaintiff. 2014 WL
5473578, at *2. The court denied the employer's motion to
dismiss because the allegations sufficiently alleged an
exception to the general rule that employers are not
vicariously liable for sexual assaults/batteries committed by
on the allegations in the amended complaint and, because the
issue of vicarious liability is a fact-intensive inquiry, the
arguments raised in Favorite Farms' motion to dismiss are
more appropriately addressed at the summary judgment stage.
Salazar-Santiago has adequately pled that Cruz used his
position of authority as Favorite Farms' crew leader to
rape Salazar-Santiago during a purported inspection of her