Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Cesare v. Cesare New Jersey Supreme Court (1998)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Mrs. Cesare sought a restraining order against her husband under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act following an argument about ending their marriage. During this argument Mr. Cesare allegedly threatened Mrs. Cesare that she would never get custody of their children, and that he would never sell the house and share the proceeds. Prior to this argument, Mr. Cesare had threatened he would kill her, or “get someone else to do it very cheaply” before she got custody of their children or shared assets. Mr. Cesare was on medication for depression and kept three loaded guns in the house. Fearing for her safety, Mrs. Cesare took her children to the police that night. The superior court granted Mrs. Cesare a temporary restraining order despite there being no explicit threats to kill Mrs. Cesare that night, finding that under the totality of the circumstances, there was sufficient cause to issue the order based on the couple’s prior history, course of conduct, and the credibility of the different witnesses. The appellate division reversed the superior court’s holding and found that the trial court’s ruling constituted a “manifest denial of justice” and that Mr. Cesare’s conduct did not qualify as a terroristic threat, required under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(b). The court found the record lacked statements that were intended to put Mrs. Cesare in imminent fear of her life, and that the trial court should have used a reasonable person standard rather than a subjective one. The court of appeals in New Jersey reversed and found that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding. The court found that the Domestic Violence Act has broad legislative intent and that an appellate court should give a deferential standard of review to a trial court. The court noted that the Domestic Violence Act was “intended to ‘assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide’.”


Brittell v. Dep’t. of Correction Supreme Court of Connecticut (1998)

Sexual harassment

Here, a former correction officer claimed the Department of Correction created a hostile work environment through an officer’s sexual harassment. Prior to the plaintiff’s employment, she attended a training academy to be a correction officer. One of the plaintiff’s classmates commented that the plaintiff did not date men and that she liked women. The plaintiff warned the classmate to never make such a comment again, but she did not report the comment to a supervisor. Id. at 151. Within a few months after the plaintiff started working, inmates began making sexually obscene comments towards her. As the comments continued and took a threatening nature, i.e.--inmates threatened to assault her to determine her gender, the plaintiff reported the comments. The plaintiff was told by inmates that officers had started a rumor about her that she had a sex change operation, but was not given names. Id. at 151-52. The defendant underwent an investigation and questioned officers. It also warned all employees against sexual harassment. It offered the plaintiff aid through the employee assistance program, which the plaintiff declined. Id. at 153. The defendant continued to monitor and investigate the situation as the comments and harassment continued, and eventually offered to transfer the plaintiff to any institution of her choice within the facility, but the plaintiff declined. Id. at 159. The plaintiff then asked to go on unpaid medical leave, which was granted. The plaintiff then failed to submit the necessary medical documentation and she was considered to have resigned. Id. at 160-61. The plaintiff then sued for sexual harassment creating a hostile work environment and claimed that the defendant failed to adequately investigate and remedy the harassment. The court considered Gen. Stat. §46a-60, which prohibits discriminatory employment practices. The court then looked to federal law for guidance on whether to hold an employer liable for sexual harassment committed by the plaintiff’s co-workers. The court concluded that “once an employer has knowledge of a sexually combative atmosphere in the work-place, he or she has a duty to take reasonable steps to eliminate it.” Id. at 168 (quoting Snell v. Suffolk County, 782 F.2d 1094, 1104 (2d Cir. 1986)). The court noted that an employer’s response will be analyzed in terms of how prompt, appropriate and adequate it was. Id. The court found that the defendant did not only investigate the harassment but also made reasonable efforts to identify the inmates and officers responsible for the rumors, warned all staff that sexual harassment would not be tolerated, provided the plaintiff with access to supervisors to report any incidents to, and offered a transfer to the plaintiff which was in no way onerous, punitive or unreasonable. Id. at 171-72. The court found this was reasonable and the defendant would not be liable.



Poole v. Copland, Inc. North Carolina Supreme Court (1998)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff sued John Haynes for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and Copland, Inc. for ratification of Haynes’ conduct, negligent retention and supervision of Haynes, and imputed liability.  The plaintiff alleged that Haynes intimidated and harassed her during the one year that she worked for Copland, Inc.  She asked him to stop and reported the incidents to her supervisor.  The supervisor reportedly told her that he was a “youngun” and to ignore him.  After one incident outside of work, she complained to her supervisors.  They had a meeting with the plaintiff and Haynes; Haynes was terminated, and the plaintiff was also terminated later that day.  The plaintiff alleged that the harassment caused her to cry, disturbed her sleep, and gave her nightmares.  She testified to a long history of sexual abuse at the hands of various individuals.  Experts explained that she had a dissociative disorder and the experience of harassment caused a flashback that triggered severe mental problems.  The trial court dismissed all claims except the claim “for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Haynes and the claims against Copland for ratification of Haynes’ conduct and negligent retention of Haynes.”  The jury awarded monetary damages, and the Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, citing an error in the charge.  The North Carolina Supreme Court considered the “thin skull” rule, which “provides that if the defendant’s misconduct amounts to a breach of duty to a person of ordinary susceptibility, he is liable for all damages suffered by the plaintiff notwithstanding the fact that these damages were unusually extensive because of the particular susceptibility of the plaintiff.”  Copland argued that there was error because the jury was permitted to “consider the thin skull damages when it determined the liability issue.”  Copland contends therefore that the jury was able to find liability “without finding that defendant Haynes’ action could have caused severe emotional distress in a person of ordinary susceptibility.”  The court disagreed, noting that a clinical psychologist testified that a person of “ordinary sensibilities” could have been affected in a manner similar to the plaintiff in this case.  It also held that there was no error in the jury instructions, and that the instructions correctly explained that the jury had to find that Haynes’ actions could have reasonably injured a person of normal sensibilities before it could hold him liable for all of the consequences of his actions.  The court also did not review the Court of Appeals finding that the thin skull rule applies to mental, not just physical injury, and that the fact that the jury received instructions during the damages, rather than liability phase of the case, was not error.



In the Matter of Dwayne M. Brown Indiana Supreme Court (1998)

Sexual harassment

The court upheld an elected clerk’s three-year suspension from the practice of law for various acts, including sexual advances toward female employees in the clerk’s office.  Six female employees made allegations that he sexually harassed them.  Respondent attempted to argue that his actions toward the employees did not meet the standard for “13” as defined by the EEOC.  The Court found that it did not need to rely on a federal agency’s definition to “find that the respondent’s creation and perpetuation of a work environment infected with inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances violated Prof. Cond. R. 8.4(d).”  It found that his acts were “prejudicial to the administration of justice,” whether or not they met a legal definition of 13.  Furthermore, he did not testify at the hearing or otherwise rebut the evidence, but merely contended that the allegations by former employees were untrue.  It therefore suspended him from the practice of law for three years.



Dorotea Ortega de Guerrero c/ Efraín Guerrero Tarifa Sala Penal (1998)

Sexual violence and rape

Charges were brought against defendant for allegedly sexually abusing his 14-year old daughter for a period of 30 days while they were in Argentina. The lower court found defendant guilty of aggravated rape, in violation of Article 308-2 and 310-2 of the Penal Code. Upon defendant's appeal, the Court affirmed the lower court's ruling, holding that the victim's testimony coupled with that of the defendant's brother, who witnessed and first reported the rape, was sufficient evidence to convict the plaintiff.



Susana Hurtado de Barrero c/ Francisco Barranco Ramos Sala Penal (1998)

Sexual violence and rape

Defendant was charged with the aggravated rape of his 9-year old daughter. After considering a medical exam that confirmed rape had occurred, and hearing testimony from the victim naming her father as the aggressor, the lower court found defendant guilty of aggravated rape. The defendant appealed, alleging the accusation of rape was an attempt by the girl's mother of getting revenge against him. Finding there to be sufficient evidence for a conviction, the Court affirmed the lower court's ruling.