Magazine article Personnel Journal

False Imprisonment Suits - Two Examples

Magazine article Personnel Journal

False Imprisonment Suits - Two Examples

Article excerpt

TWO DIFFERENT COURTS recently have allowed employee false imprisonment claims to proceed to trial.

In the first case, Julie Fermino, an 18-year-old sales clerk for a Fedco department store in Los Angeles, alleged that she was detained for an hour in a windowless room where she was harshly questioned by security personnel about a suspected theft of $4.95. After denying the accusation, Fermino was told there were witnesses and that she would be arrested and charged with a crime if she didn't admit to the theft.

Fermino's requests to leave the room and call her mother were also denied until she became hysterical.

She filed suit in court for false imprisonment. A trial judge dismissed the claim on the basis that the exclusive remedy provisions of the California Workers' Compensation Act precluded a civil action arising from her employment. A California court of appeal affirmed.

However, the California Supreme Court held that "[a]n employer that falsely imprisons its employees has stepped outside its proper role, and an injury resulting therefrom is beyond the scope of what we have termed the 'compensation bargain'."

Although acknowledging that employers are privileged to detain employees for investigation of suspected theft, the court found that no degree of false imprisonment can be accepted as reasonable because such conduct is, "by definition, an unreasonable and indeed criminal confinement."

The court concluded: "When an employer forcibly and criminally deprives an employee of her liberty, even as a means to otherwise legitimate ends, it steps outside its 'proper role,' whether it uses assault or battery to force that false imprisonment or employs some other coercive stratagem."

The court reversed and remanded the matter to the trial court for a trial on these issues. Fermino v. Fedco, __ Cal.4th __, Case No. S033096 (May 12, 1994).

In the second case, on December 18, 1991, a Kmart security official suspected that two shoppers were involved in the theft of company property. When the customers approached a check-out counter with merchandise, he alleged that he observed the checker, Debbie Jackson, scan several items into the computer and then void the items off the sale. After one of the shoppers exited the store, the security guard asked the shopper for her receipt, which indicated that she'd purchased items for only $4. …

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