California Appellate Court Holds Defendant Guidance Counselor Entitled to Reimbursement for Defending Sexual Assault Case

The California Court of Appeals for the Second District recently held that a guidance counselor sued for sexual assault was entitled to reimbursement for his defense from the Los Angeles Community College District (the District) because he denied the allegations that he was acting outside the scope of his employment.

Los Angeles

Adult student Jazmyne Goodwin was a student at Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC), a school within the District. Igor Daza worked as a guidance counselor for LASC, providing educational and emotional counseling for students like Goodwin. In that capacity, he was assigned to Goodwin as a counselor. He used this position of authority to sexually harass and molest Goodwin.

On the evening in question, Goodwin went to Daza’s office to meet with him to discuss various school-related issues. When she entered his office, he closed the door and took her cell phone. He examined pictures on her phone without her consent and commented on a photo of her nipple ring. He said he would send it to his own phone. She told him not to send it.

Upset, Goodwin got up to leave. Daza grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward him. He said, “Are you a freak? I heard Aries are freaks.” She pushed him away. He said, “If you don’t want me to touch you, maybe you would like me to lick you.” Goodwin told him she wanted to leave and said she had a boyfriend. He was blocking her path. He touched, caressed, and kissed her neck, placed his left hand in her dress on the upper part of her breast, and asked if he could see her nipple ring. She pushed him away. Daza was still holding her hair but finally let her go. Goodwin left the office, and he followed her. He commented on her butt and said she should really think about going on a date with him. Daza continued to follow her to her car. At this point, she noticed he had sent the photo of her nipple ring to his own cell phone.

A criminal investigation of this incident was commenced, and in May 2012, Daza resigned his employment with the District.

Goodwin’s suit alleged the following causes of action:  negligence, statutory breach, intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual battery, battery, assault, gender violence, false imprisonment, negligent sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. The District refused to defend Daza, so he hired his own defense and filed a cross-complaint in which he denied the allegations and sought indemnity and reimbursement for his defense.

The District settled the main lawsuit without admitting liability and without a factual determination of whether Daza was acting within the scope of his employment. Thereafter, Goodwin dismissed her claims against Daza and the District with prejudice. The District demurred to Daza’s cross-complaint, arguing that the student’s allegations of sexual assault in the main lawsuit fell outside of the scope of Daza’s employment as a matter of law. Daza opposed, arguing that he was not limited to the allegations in the main lawsuit in carrying his burden to prove the acts fell within the scope of his employment. The trial court agreed with the District and refused to look beyond the allegations in the main lawsuit to hold as a matter of law that the alleged acts of sexual assault fell outside the scope of Daza’s employment.

The appeals court reversed. The court first rejected Daza’s contention that Goodwin’s allegations of sexual assault against Daza fell outside his scope of employment as a guidance counselor for the District. His alleged conduct was not an outgrowth of his employment. It was neither inherent in nor typical of the District’s educational enterprise, and it was not foreseeable from Daza’s duties as a guidance counselor. The court also rejected Daza’s contention that some of his alleged acts not amounting to sexual assault might have fallen within the scope of his employment, such as taking Goodwin’s cell phone without permission and viewing photographs on it. Goodwin did not sue for these acts standing alone. She sued for his alleged sexual assault, and the allegations of Daza’s nonsexual and sexual conduct were inextricably intertwined.

Having concluded Daza’s alleged acts of sexual assault fell outside his scope of employment, the court turned to the main issue:  whether Daza was limited to those allegations in carrying his burden to show the action arose from acts within the scope of his employment. For several reasons, the court concluded he was not, and the trial court erred in holding otherwise. By alleging in his cross-complaint that no sexual assault occurred, Daza had sufficiently stated a claim for reimbursement under the relevant statute.

The court reasoned that if it credited Daza’s allegation that no sexual assault occurred, as it is required to do at the demurrer stage, the evidence would show Goodwin came to his office and obtained counseling from him in his capacity as a guidance counselor for the District. This is precisely within Daza’s job duties and therefore within his scope of employment.

The sexual assault lawyers at the Neumann Law Group represent victims of accidents throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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