david foleys blog

David Foley's Labor and Employment Law Blog

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hudgens v. Prosper Inc. --- P.3d ----, 2010 WL 4840470 (Utah), 31 IER Cases 999, 2010 UT 68

This case strikes me as one of those law school hypos that actually happened.*  It was Philip Miles's "case of the week" for the week of December 10, 2010. http://www.lawfficespace.com/2010/12/waterboarding-fake-mustaches-and-other.html

A sales manager known for drawing mustaches with permanent marker on the faces of employees who missed their sales goals as well as taking away their chairs and pacing the floor with a wooden paddle  has his sales crew hike into the nearby hills for a little motivational exercise...what could go wrong?

The manager (Christopherson) decided to waterboard a volunteer (Hudgens).  "Once on the hill, Mr. Christopherson ordered Mr. Hudgens to lie down, facing up, with his head pointed downhill. Mr. Christopherson ordered other team members to hold Mr. Hudgens down by his arms and legs. Mr. Christopherson then slowly poured water from a gallon jug over Mr. Hudgens’s mouth and nose so that he could not breathe[footnote omitted]. Mr. Hudgens struggled and tried to escape but, at Mr. Christopherson’s direction, the other team members held him down."

Christopherson told the staff that they should work as hard at sales as Hudgens had worked at breathing.

According to the Utah Supreme Court,

"Mr. Hudgens reported the incident to Prosper’s human resources department. Prosper took no action in response to the incident prior to the time that Mr. Hudgens quit working for Prosper. Mr. Hudgens quit working because the waterboarding incident caused him to suffer sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and to feel sick to his stomach at work. Because of the distress caused by the incident, Mr. Hudgens has undergone psychological counseling and has suffered physical and emotional harm.

Approximately seven months after the incident, on January 15, 2008, Mr. Hudgens filed a complaint against Prosper and Mr. Christopherson asserting four causes of action. First, Mr. Hudgens alleged common law assault and battery against Prosper and Mr. Christopherson. Second, Mr. Hudgens alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress against Prosper and Mr. Christopherson. Third, Mr. Hudgens alleged Prosper and Mr. Christopherson had wrongfully terminated him from his position. Finally, Mr. Hudgens alleged that Mr. Christopherson had intentionally interfered with his contractual relationship with

The district court threw out the complaint for failure to state a claim and denied Hudgens's motion to amend.  The Supreme Court of Utah reversed.  Full decision here.

*The plaintiff's claims were dismissed at the summary judgment level for failure to state a claim, and so the Utah Supreme Court wrote its decision on the basis that the facts as alleged by the plaintiff were true; my summary also makes that assumption.

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