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Domino's Pizza might be liable in sexual harassment suit

A young woman who sued Domino's Pizza in a sexual harassment suit, only to have the claim dismissed in court, might get justice after all: An appellate court ruled that the suit could go forward. The young woman, who was just 16 at the time of the alleged harassment and assault, sued Domino's and the franchise that she worked for.

An earlier ruling held that the franchisee could be sued because that's who employed the young woman as well as the person she accused of assaulting her. However, Domino's argued that the franchisee was an independent contractor and that it was not responsible. The trial court agreed with Domino's, saying that because the franchisee was responsible for supervising and paying workers at its store, that it alone was responsible.

The appeals court, however, found that the franchise agreement gave Domino's substantial control over the management of the franchisee in areas far beyond food preparation. Consequently, the court found that the franchisee was not an independent contractor, as the franchise agreement stated, but was an agent for Domino's, giving rise to Domino's liability for the supervisor's sexual harassment. This could be a crucial point because the franchisee -- Sui Juris L.L.C. -- filed for bankruptcy after the suit was filed.

Ironically, the franchise agreement would not allow Sui Juris to manage its operations sui juris. This Latin phrase describes a person who is not under the power of another. Essentially, Domino's retained so much power over Sui Juris that it became Domino's agent. Consequently, Domino's had a legal duty to prevent sexual harassment in the young woman's workplace.

Source: Business Insurance, "Domino's may be liable for sexual harassment of franchisee's employee: Court," Judy Greenwald, July 2, 2012

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