Emotional Distress Claim not Barred by Workers’ Comp Exclusive Remedy Provision

September 27, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A California appeals court has found that a California worker’s common law claim for infliction of emotional distress resulting from a supervisor’s harassment is not barred by the exclusivity provisions of the workers' compensation system.

In reversing a lower court’s grant of summary judgment on claims of harassment and failure to prevent harassment, the Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, Division One, found the evidence presented by the Debra Blumenfeld creates a triable issue of fact as to both whether the conduct of her supervisor at Qualcomm was unwelcome and whether it was directed at her because of her gender. Because Blumenfeld’s claim for harassment is viable, her common law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is not subject to the workers’ compensation system, according to the court.  

However, the appellate court concluded that the lower court did not err in summarily adjudicating Blumenfeld’s cause of action for discrimination as she cannot show that she has been subject to an adverse employment action because she remains employed by Qualcomm. In addition, the remainder of her common law claims—for assault, battery and negligent retention/supervision—are subject to the exclusive remedy of the workers’ compensation system.  

Blumenfeld alleged that during the five years she reported to her supervisor he harassed her verbally, physically and sexually and intimidated her in an effort to prevent her from complaining about his behavior. She alleged that he had influence with the human resources department and was privy to information provided to them by employees under his supervision. Because of this Blumenfeld said she endured his treatment until she reached a breaking point which forced her to go out on disability leave for serious mental and emotional health problems.  

The opinion in Blumenfeld v. Qualcomm Inc. is here.