Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Sabella v. Manor Care, Inc. New Mexico Supreme Court (1996)

Sexual harassment

Sabella worked for Manor Care, Inc. (“Manor”) from 1989 to 1990. Sabella claimed that her supervisor sexually harassed her and retaliated against her rejections by assigning her to less desirable jobs. On February 8, 1990, Sabella filed a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”), but not with the New Mexico Human Rights Division (the “NMHRD”). While the investigation was pending, Sabella filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, claimed injuries such as bruised breast and emotional trauma due to sexual assaults. Sabella and Manor eventually settled the workers’ compensation claim. She signed an agreement that discharged Manor all current and future liabilities under the Workers’ Compensation Act. On August 24, 1993, Sabella received an order of non-determination from the NMHRD. Sabella appealed the order to the trial court. Manor filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that Sabella had not exhausted her administrative remedies as required by the NMHRA. Id. at 902-03. Manor specifically pointed out that Sabella had not filed her grievance with the NMHRD. Id. The trial court granted Manor’s motion to dismiss. Sabella appealed.

State ex rel. Juvenile Dep't. v. Gohranson (In re Gohranson) Oregon Court of Appeals (1996)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

Here, appellants, the State and the children, sought review of a judgment from the circuit court, which found in favor of respondents, a mother and father, in the State’s action to terminate their parental rights. The Court of Appeals of Oregon reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment terminating the parental rights of father and mother. With reference to ORS 419B.504, the Court of Appeals of Oregon terminated the father’s parental rights with regard to his own daughter, because he was convicted for sexually abusing the mother’s daughter from previous marriage and had sexually abused his own daughter. In addition, integration of the children into his home was unlikely in the foreseeable future. In keeping with ORS 419B.504, the Court of Appeals of Oregon terminated the mother’s parental rights, because the children were subjected to severe sexual abuse while in her care, but she had neither recognized the signs of sexual abuse nor protected them. Furthermore, the evidence also demonstrated that mother would not be able to adjust her behavior to protect the children in the future, most importantly because she continuously denied the possibility that father subjected the children to sexual abuse.

Nadeau v. Rainbow Rugs Maine Supreme Court (1996)

Sexual harassment

The plaintiff worked as an administrative assistant for the defendant, whose office was located at the home of the company’s president. The plaintiff worked in the same room as the president and he supervised the plaintiff’s work. The president asked her uncomfortable personal questions about her marriage and financially distressed situation, stating that she had options available to make money, but that he needed to speak to her in private about them. He followed this by offering to give the plaintiff money in exchange for sex. The plaintiff immediately rejected the proposal and the president told her that her position was not jeopardized but left the offer open in case the plaintiff changed her mind. The plaintiff reported the incident that day to a supervisor of the warehouse. However the president was her only supervisor so she did not report the incident to anyone else. The defendant had no policies for sexual harassment or complaint procedures. The plaintiff subsequently resigned due to the president’s comments and filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission suing the defendant for the harassment by her supervisor under 5 M.R.S.A. § 4572 for a hostile work environment. The court found that under the Maine Human Rights Act, “employers are liable for hostile environment harassment by supervisors and co-workers if an official representing the institution knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known, of the harassment’s occurrence, unless that official can show that he or she took appropriate steps to halt it.” Here, the court found that because the president was the plaintiff’s only supervisor, she had no one else to consult, and because the defendant had no harassment policy in place, she had no avenues of relief. Any higher officials than the president were located in Belgium. Further, the president was an official representing the defendant and obviously knew of the occurrence. He could have taken steps to stop the harassment by rescinding his offer but he left it open in case the plaintiff changed her mind. Thus, the defendant could be liable for the president’s harassment.

Konstantopoulos v. Westvaco Corp. Supreme Court of Delaware (1996)

Sexual harassment

Here, the plaintiff sued her former employer for allowing her to be subjected to sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and sexual assault by her co-workers. The plaintiff claimed that her co-workers made sexual comments and engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior, but that she was not physically injured by the conduct. She also had no prior or subsequent contact with her co-workers outside of work. Id. at 938. The plaintiff complained to her supervisors but nothing was ever done to rectify the situation. The plaintiff subsequently elected to take a layoff from her job once the harassment continued. The defendant argued that the plaintiff had no common law right of action because any of these claims were encompassed by the Delaware Workmen’s Compensation Act (19 Del. C. § 2301). Under this Act, a plaintiff’s compensation for personal injuries is limited to compensation that is provided in the Act. The court agreed with the defendant and found that the Act did not exclude acts of a sexual nature that occurred at work, and that the plaintiff could not bring a private cause of action for sexual harassment. Id. at 939-40. Thus, any action for sexual harassment would have to be brought pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 2301.

Stafford v. Nunn, 1996 WL 434514, at *1 Delaware Family Court (1996)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Here, the plaintiff sought an emergency protective order as she feared that her ex-husband was going to kidnap their son and as the ex-husband had told her the only way to solve their problems was for the plaintiff to be dead.  Id. at *1.  Under 10 Del. C. § 1043(a), a party may request an emergency protective order where there is an immediate and present danger of domestic violence.  In order to obtain such an order, the plaintiff must show in writing what efforts have been made to give notice to the adverse party of the request.  Further, a court may not grant an order unless the plaintiff files an affidavit or verified pleading.  The plaintiff failed to file such a writing in this case, and the court noted that emergency relief can only be granted based upon oral testimony in very limited circumstances.  Because there were no new arguments made in the plaintiff’s oral argument that could not have been raised earlier or in writing, the court found no such exception existed here.  Thus, the court denied the emergency protective order.  Id. at *1-*2.

People v. Humphrey California Supreme Court (1996)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Defendant shot and killed her partner, Albert Hampton (“Hampton”), in their home in Fresno, California. When a police officer arrived she immediately surrendered, told him where the gun was, and admitted that she shot him. She explained, “He deserved it. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told him to stop beating on me.” Defendant was charged with murder with personal use of a firearm. At trial, the defense asserted that Defendant shot Hampton in self-defense. They presented expert testimony on battered women’s syndrome from Dr. Lee Bowker, who stated that Defendant suffered from an extreme case of the syndrome. The court acquitted Defendant of first-degree murder and instructed the jury on second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and self-defense. The judge explained that for self-defense to be a complete or perfect defense to all charges, Defendant must have had an actual and reasonable belief that the killing was necessary. The judge further explained that an actual but unreasonable belief, imperfect self-defense, was a defense to murder but not to voluntary manslaughter. The judge instructed jurors that they could only use the battered women’s syndrome evidence to decide whether Defendant had an actual belief that the killing was necessary. The judge said the evidence could not be used to decide whether Defendant had a reasonable belief that the killing was necessary. The jury found Defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter with personal use of a firearm. The court sentenced her to eight years in prison. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment. The Court held that the trial court erred when it instructed the jury that battered women’s syndrome evidence could not be used to determine whether Defendant had a reasonable belief that the killing was necessary. The Court opined that Defendant’s corroborated testimony had made a plausible case for perfect self-defense to all charges and the instruction error could have affected the verdict in a way adverse to Defendant.

U.S. v. Virginia Supreme Court [United States] (1996)

Gender discrimination

The Court was asked to determine the constitutionality of Virginia's decision to only admit men to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), asking women to instead enroll at the all-women Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL). In a 7-1 decision, the Court held that banning women from VMI was in violation of the 14th amendment. The Court held that Virginia had failed to give adequate reasoning for its decision to not admit women, and that women would not receive the same level of instruction at VWIL that they would receive at VMI.

Taleo v. Taleo Senior Magistrate Court (1996)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The Court examined whether or not the Magistrate's grant of a restraining order was unconstitutional. A victim of mestic violence moved out of the house after the incident and attempted to obtain a restraining order. The Court found that no rule gave the Magistrate jurisdiction to grant such orders, but, absent parliamentary intervention, the Magistrate can grant these orders even if they violate the constitution.

International Case Law

X and Y v. Argentina Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (1996)

Custodial violence, Gender-based violence in general, Sexual harassment

Vaginal inspections for visits to family inmates. A complaint was brought against Argentina by a woman and her 13-year old daughter who were routinely subjected to vaginal inspections when they would visit the woman's husband (and girl's father) at a prison. The complaint alleged that such inspections violated the "American Convention as it offends the dignity of the persons subjected to such a procedure (Article 11), and is a degrading penal measure which extends beyond the person condemned or on trial (Article 5.3) and, furthermore, discriminates against women (Article 24), in relation to Article 1.1." Argentina argued that such inspections were reasonably necessary and conducted with as little intrusion as possible by female guards. The Commission opined that such an inspection should not occur unless absolutely necessary. In this case, the Court found that the procedure was not absolutely necessary as there were alternatives that could achieve the same objective. The Commission also held that in cases where such an inspection was absolutely necessary, they should only be carried out by pursuant to a judicial order, and by qualified medical personnel. The Commission found the inspections in this case to violate Articles 5, 11, 17, 19 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Inspecciones vaginales para visitas a familiares de internos. Una mujer y su hija de 13 años de edad fueron sometidas de forma rutinaria a una inspección vaginal cuando visitaban al marido de la mujer (y al padre de la niña) en una prisión, por lo cual demandan a Argentina. La queja alegó que tales inspecciones violaron la "Convención Americana, ya que ofende la dignidad de las personas sometidas a tal procedimiento (Artículo 11), y es una medida penal degradante que se extiende más allá de la persona condenada o enjuiciada (Artículo 5.3) y además, discrimina a las mujeres (artículo 24), en relación con el artículo 1.1 ". Argentina argumentó que tales inspecciones eran necesarias y que se llevaron a cabo con la menor intrusión posible de las guardias. La Comisión opinó que tal inspección no debería ocurrir a menos que sea absolutamente necesario. En este caso, el Tribunal consideró que el procedimiento no era absolutamente necesario ya que había alternativas que podrían lograr el mismo objetivo. La Comisión también sostuvo que en los casos en que dicha inspección fuera absolutamente necesaria, solo deberían llevarse a cabo de conformidad con una orden judicial y por personal médico calificado. La Comisión consideró que las inspecciones en este caso violan los artículos 5, 11, 17 y 19 de la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos.