South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Termination that Causes Health Problems for Employee May Involve Emotional Distress
Description In a case where a patron of a health club died from injuries when he fell from a treadmill, an appeals court held that while the liability waiver would protect the club from suit in case of ordinary negligence, it would not relieve the club in the event that gross negligence could be shown.
Topic Torts
Key Words Emotional Distress; Negligent; Intentional
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Copeland worked for Home and Community Health Services under Talbot's supervision. The two did not get along and, according the Copeland, Talbot was hostile to her. As a result, Copeland says she became anxious and was physically upset. Her doctor diagnosed her with depression and components of obsessive-compulsive disorder, gave her medication and told her to take leave from work. She was granted leave. She tried to return to work two weeks later, but suffered a panic attack and could not return. The head of Human Resources told her several times that if she did not return to work as soon as possible, she would be replaced. After three weeks, Copeland was fired. She sued her employer for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The employer moved that the claim be dismissed.

Motion denied. In Connecticut, a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress means that: 1) the defendant intended to inflict emotional distress, or knew or should have known that emotional distress was a likely result of its conduct; 2) the defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous; 3) the defendant's conduct caused the plaintiff's distress; and 4) the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff was severe. To prove a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant knew or should have known that its conduct involved an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress, and that the distress, if it were caused, might result in illness or bodily harm. This action, which Copeland has established, does not require extreme and outrageous behavior by the defendant. Copeland must show that the employer engaged in unreasonable conduct that was inconsiderate or intended to humiliate or embarrass the employee and that the conduct was engaged in during the course of the employment termination process. The case will proceed.

Citation Copeland v. Home and Community Health Services, Inc., --- F.Supp.2d --- (2003 WL 22240629, D. Conn., 2003)

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