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Labor & Employment Law

: Ross' Employment Law Blog

School liability for supervisors' negligent supervision of molesting counselor


In C.A. v. William S. Hart Union High School (California Supreme Court 03/08/2012), the court held that a school district may be vicariously liable for its supervisors' negligent supervision of a counselor who allegedly molested a student.

A high school student sued the school district and its administrators claiming that he was molested by a counselor. The issue on appeal was whether the district may be vicariously liable for its administrators' negligence. (This was not a claim of vicarious liability for the acts of the counselor, which were outside the scope of her employment).

The California Supreme Court held that the district may be vicariously liable for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision.

The student alleged that the administrators knew or should have known of the counselor's past - and continuing - unlawful conduct with minors, and that they failed to provide reasonable care in investigating and supervising the counselor.

Public entity tort liability in California is exclusively statutory, and Gov. Code Section 815.2, as paraphrased by the court, provides that

"the general rule is that an employee of a public entity is liable for his torts to the same extent as a private person ... and the public entity is vicariously liable for any injury which its employee causes ... to the same extent as a private employer."

The court said that

  • school administrators owe a duty of ordinary care to their students,
  • they have a "special relationship" with students,
  • ineffective supervision can be a lack of ordinary care, and
  • a school district can be vicariously liable for injuries proximately caused by such negligence.

My view: Pretty simple application of pretty simple legal rules. The main thing to notice is that the court did not say that the school could be vicariously liable for the acts of the counselor because such acts were outside the scope of the counselor's employment. Liability can flow from any negligence on the part of the counselor's supervisors - for their failure to provide reasonable care in investigating and supervising the counselor.

Full post as published by Ross' Employment Law Blog on March 10, 2012 (boomark / email).

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