Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Securities, Inc., RICHARDSON-GREENSHIELDS

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtBARKETT; GRIMES; EHRLICH; OVERTON; GRIMES; EHRLICH
Citation14 Fla. L. Weekly 549,552 So.2d 1099
Parties58 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1606, 51 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 39,446, 58 USLW 2297, 7 IER Cases 1782, 14 Fla. L. Weekly 549 Penny BYRD, et al., Petitioners, v.SECURITIES, INC., etc., et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 72788,RICHARDSON-GREENSHIELDS
Decision Date26 October 1989

Page 1099

552 So.2d 1099
58 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1606,
51 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 39,446, 58 USLW 2297,
7 IER Cases 1782, 14 Fla. L. Weekly 549
Penny BYRD, et al., Petitioners,
v.
RICHARDSON-GREENSHIELDS SECURITIES, INC., etc., et al., Respondents.
No. 72788.
Supreme Court of Florida.
Oct. 26, 1989.
Rehearing Denied Dec. 19, 1989.

Robert E. Weisberg, David M. Lipman and Stefan Ruud of Lipman & Weisberg, Miami, and Rochelle Z. Catz, Ft. Myers, for petitioners.

Terence G. Connor of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Miami, for respondents.

Nancy P. Maxwell and Mark Wayne Klingensmith of Metzger, Sonneborn & Rutter, P.A., West Palm Beach, amicus curiae for Florida Defense Lawyers Ass'n.

CORRECTED OPINION

BARKETT, Justice.

We have for review Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Securities, Inc., 527 So.2d 899, 902 (Fla. 2d DCA 1988), which certified "the contention in this case concerning the exclusivity of worker's compensation benefits." The case presents the following question of law: 1

Page 1100

WHETHER THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION STATUTE PROVIDES THE EXCLUSIVE REMEDY FOR A CLAIM BASED ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE.

We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. We answer in the negative and quash the opinion below.

The plaintiffs, all female employees, brought claims for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring and retention of employees. These claims were based on incidents in which male employees repeatedly touched the women and made verbal sexual advances on them in the workplace during work hours. In their suit, the women claimed this resulted in emotional anguish and stress.

The trial court dismissed the complaint on grounds that the workers' compensation statute provided the exclusive remedy for the women. On appeal, the Second District affirmed.

Our analysis must begin with the premise, now well established in our law, that workers' compensation generally is the sole tort remedy available to a worker injured in a manner that falls within the broad scope and policies of the workers' compensation statute. American Freight System, Inc. v. Florida Farm Bureau Casualty Ins. Co., 453 So.2d 468, 470 (Fla.2d DCA 1984). Indeed, section 440.11, Florida Statutes (1987), provides that workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy and is "in place of all other liability of such employer ... on account of such injury or death." This statute expresses a plain legislative intent that any potential liability arising from "injury or death" is abolished in favor of the exclusive remedy available under workers' compensation. However, if the liability arises from something other than "injury or death," the other potential bases of liability remain viable.

Thus, the definition of the word "injury" is crucial to the determination of this case. 2 That definition is provided in the statute itself. Section 440.02(14), Florida Statutes (1987), states that "injury" means "personal injury ... by accident arising out of and in the course of employment, and such diseases or infection as naturally or unavoidably result from such injury" (emphasis added). Moreover, section 440.02(1), Florida Statutes (1987), defines "accident" as "only an unexpected or unusual event or result, happening suddenly."

It is apparent, however, that the term "accident arising out of ... employment" has been construed well beyond the more limited definition suggested by the statutory language. This judicial extension of the statutory language is in keeping with the liberal construction accorded the workers' compensation statute, see Wick Roofing Co. v. Curtis, 110 So.2d 385 (Fla.1959); C.F. Wheeler Co. v. Pullins, 152 Fla. 96, 11 So.2d 303 (1942), and has affected both the terms "accident" and "arising out of."

As far back as the case of Czepial v. Krohne Roofing Co., 93 So.2d 84, 85-86 (Fla.1957), for instance, the Court recognized that an injury was compensable under the statute even though caused by the gradual accumulation of otherwise insignificant injuries arising from repeated exposure to somewhat noxious substances at the workplace. Accord Worden v. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 256 So.2d 209 (Fla.1971). This is true even though, strictly speaking, a cumulative injury of this type is not an "accident" within the dictionary definition of the word. 3

In a similar manner, the Court has accepted that even a suicide precipitated by serious workplace injuries can be compensable. Whitehead v. Keene Roofing Co., 43 So.2d 464 (Fla.1949). We have qualified this statement only by requiring that the suicide must arise from a mental disturbance directly attributable to an actual workplace injury. Id.

Page 1101

An analogous line of cases has held that severe emotional disorders also may be compensable where caused by actual physical injury at the workplace. 4 E.g., Sheppard v. City of Gainesville Police Dep't, 490 So.2d 972, 974-75 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986); Prahl Bros., Inc. v. Phillips, 429 So.2d 386 (Fla. 1st DCA), review denied, 440 So.2d 353 (Fla.1983). This is not true, however, where no physical injury has occurred, since the statute by its own terms excludes such matters. E.g., Superior Mill Work v. Gabel, 89 So.2d 794 (Fla.1956); Davis v. Sun Banks, 412 So.2d 937, 937 (Fla. 1st DCA), review denied, 419 So.2d 1196 (Fla.1982); Williams v. Hillsborough County School Bd., 389 So.2d 1218, 1219 (Fla. 1st DCA 1980), review denied, 397 So.2d 780 (Fla.1981). Indeed, the statute expressly prohibits a workers' compensation award for "[a] mental or nervous injury due to fright or excitement only." § 440.02(1), Fla.Stat. (1987).

Similarly, Florida courts have extended the definition of "accident arising out of ... employment" to encompass a wide variety of injuries caused by intentional torts, provided there is a sufficient nexus with the activities of the workplace itself. This is true where workplace tensions lead one employee to assault another, W.T. Edwards Hospital v. Rakestraw, 114 So.2d 802, 803 (Fla. 1st DCA 1959), where jealousy over a lovers' triangle causes one worker to attack another with a workplace tool, Tampa Maid Seafood Products v. Porter, 415 So.2d 883, 885 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982), where an employee is robbed at the workplace by an armed gunman, Prahl Brothers, Inc. v. Phillips, 429 So.2d 386, 387 (Fla. 1st DCA), review denied, 440 So.2d 353 (Fla.1983), and where a worker is robbed at home by persons seeking workplace cash register receipts. 5 Strother v. Morrison Cafeteria, 383 So.2d 623 (Fla.1980).

In a recent extension from this prior line of cases, the First District has held that sexual harassment claims are governed by the same general principles. Thus, in Brown v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, Inc., 469 So.2d 155, 159 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985), the district court concluded that the workers' compensation statute barred a claim for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress based on an incident in which a male supervisor grabbed the breast of a female employee.

The Brown decision in turn rested on the First District's prior analysis in Schwartz v. Zippy Mart, Inc., 470 So.2d 720, 724 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985). Schwartz had held that sexual harassment falls outside the rule that, under workers' compensation, an employer remains liable in tort for his or her own intentional misconduct. The First District buttressed this rationale with the following quote from a treatise on the subject:

"When the person who intentionally injures the employee is not the employer in person nor a person who is realistically the alter ego of the corporation, but merely a foreman, supervisor or manager, both the legal and the moral reasons for permitting a common-law suit against the employer collapse, and a substantial majority of modern cases bar a damage suit against the employer."

Id. at 724 (quoting 2A Larson's Workmen's Compensation Law § 68.21, 13-28 (1982)). Under this rationale, the First District held that claims for assault and battery were barred as a result of an incident in which two female workers had been subjected

Page 1102

to pinching, grabbing, and other gestures of a sexual nature. Id. at 724-25.

We acknowledge and reaffirm the strong policies regarding workers' compensation that form the foundation of the decisions discussed above. As the Court often has noted, our obligation is to honor the obvious legislative intent and policy behind an enactment, even where that intent requires an interpretation that exceeds the literal language of the statute. E.g., State v. Webb, 398 So.2d 820 (Fla.1981).

In this context, we cannot find that acts constituting sexual harassment were ever meant to fall under workers' compensation. Moreover, we have an equal obligation to honor the intent and policy of other enactments and, accordingly, may not apply the exclusivity rule in a manner that effectively abrogates the policies of other law. In this instance, we find that the First District in Brown and Schwartz, and the Second District in the instant case, have ignored an equally important expression of public policy emanating from both federal and state enactments.

There can be no doubt at this point in time that both the state of Florida and the federal government have committed themselves strongly to outlawing and eliminating sexual discrimination in the workplace, including the related evil of sexual harassment. The statutes, case law, and administrative regulations uniformly and without exception condemn sexual harassment in the strongest possible terms. We find that the present case strongly implicates these sexual harassment policies and, accordingly, may not be decided by a blind adherence to the exclusivity rule of the workers' compensation statute alone. Our clear obligation is to construe both the workers' compensation statute and the enactments dealing with sexual harassment so that the policies of both are preserved to the greatest extent possible. Wakulla County v. Davis, 395 So.2d 540, 542...

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107 practice notes
  • Green v. Wyman-Gordon Co., WYMAN-GORDON
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • May 3, 1996
    ...have been rejected in Massachusetts so the above-cited cases are inapposite. But see Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Sec., Inc., 552 So.2d 1099, 1104-1105 Other jurisdictions have created an exclusivity exception for intentional acts of coemployees when the intent to injure is for personal ......
  • T.L. v. Toys R Us, Inc.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • April 16, 1992
    ...for sexual harassment of a worker. We invite attention to the several concurring opinions in Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Sec., Inc., 552 So.2d 1099 (Fla.1989). The trial judge must also carefully evaluate whether the course of action plaintiff followed in resigning her position and incu......
  • Messer v. Huntington Anesthesia Group, Inc., No. 31739.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 7, 2005
    ...under the law than workers disabled by non-work-related injuries. 3. Florida In Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Securities, Inc., 552 So.2d 1099 (Fla.1989), the Supreme Court of Florida answered in the negative the following certified question: "Whether the workers' compensation statute [of......
  • Myers v. Central Florida Investments, Inc., No. 08-16291.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • January 6, 2010
    ...without exception condemn 592 F.3d 1219 sexual harassment in the strongest possible terms. Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Secs., Inc., 552 So.2d 1099, 1102 (Fla.1989). Furthermore, the state's interest in protecting workers from sexual discrimination extends to both statutory and common la......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
107 cases
  • Green v. Wyman-Gordon Co., WYMAN-GORDON
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • May 3, 1996
    ...have been rejected in Massachusetts so the above-cited cases are inapposite. But see Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Sec., Inc., 552 So.2d 1099, 1104-1105 Other jurisdictions have created an exclusivity exception for intentional acts of coemployees when the intent to injure is for personal ......
  • T.L. v. Toys R Us, Inc.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • April 16, 1992
    ...for sexual harassment of a worker. We invite attention to the several concurring opinions in Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Sec., Inc., 552 So.2d 1099 (Fla.1989). The trial judge must also carefully evaluate whether the course of action plaintiff followed in resigning her position and incu......
  • Messer v. Huntington Anesthesia Group, Inc., No. 31739.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 7, 2005
    ...under the law than workers disabled by non-work-related injuries. 3. Florida In Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Securities, Inc., 552 So.2d 1099 (Fla.1989), the Supreme Court of Florida answered in the negative the following certified question: "Whether the workers' compensation statute [of......
  • Myers v. Central Florida Investments, Inc., No. 08-16291.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • January 6, 2010
    ...without exception condemn 592 F.3d 1219 sexual harassment in the strongest possible terms. Byrd v. Richardson-Greenshields Secs., Inc., 552 So.2d 1099, 1102 (Fla.1989). Furthermore, the state's interest in protecting workers from sexual discrimination extends to both statutory and common la......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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