| March 24
March 24 A federal appeals court on Friday said
Home Depot Inc must face a lawsuit claiming that the
retailer's negligence led to a supervisor's murdering a pregnant
employee by strangulation and raping her corpse.
Reversing a lower court ruling, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals in Chicago said Alisha Bromfield's mother may pursue
claims that Home Depot should not have employed the supervisor,
given his known history of sexually harassing, verbally abusing
and physically intimidating female subordinates.
Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes said the Atlanta-based
company is reviewing the decision. "Our deepest sympathies
remain with the family, first and foremost," he said.
"We are very pleased with the reversal," Kristin Barnette,
the lawyer for Bromfield's mother, Sherry Anicich, said in an
Bromfield, 21, was seven months pregnant in August 2012 when
she was killed by Brian Cooper, for whom she had worked in Home
Depot stores in Illinois since 2006, court papers show.
Her unborn baby did not survive. Cooper was later convicted
of intentional homicide and sentenced to two consecutive life
terms in prison without parole.
The complaint said Bromfield had repeatedly complained to
management about how Cooper treated women, including calling her
a "slut" and "whore" in front of customers.
Cooper eventually forced Bromfield to attend his sister's
wedding in Wisconsin or risk being fired, and killed her after
she refused to enter a relationship, the complaint said.
Last March, a lower court judge said Bromfield's mother
failed to plausibly allege that Home Depot had a duty to protect
her from Cooper's criminal conduct, justifying damages.
But the appeals court said a reasonable jury could find that
Home Depot and Grand Flower Growers, which the mother said
jointly employed Cooper, should have foreseen he might "take the
small further step" to violence.
"Alisha's story is an old story that has been told too many
times," Circuit Judge David Hamilton wrote. "Its ending is both
shocking and predictable. Alisha's family is entitled to try to
prove its truth."
Grand Flower's lawyers did not respond to requests for
Hamilton also criticized Home Depot's argument that it would
be "illogical and unworkable" to fire or demote workers because
of their "usage of inappropriate language, or sexual
misconduct," to prevent a "future (hypothetical) murder."
"Home Depot asserts in its brief that it employs 'thousands'
of such people," Hamilton wrote in a footnote. "We hope this
insult to the character of Home Depot's employees and to the
judgment of its managers was just an ill-advised exaggeration."
The case is Anicich v Home Depot USA Inc et al, 7th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-1693.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard