Fla.: Emotional Distress Claim Requires Outrageous and Extreme Conduct

By Rosemarie Lally Jan 20, 2015
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A claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress must be based on conduct so outrageous and extreme as to go “beyond all possible bounds of decency,” a Florida district court held, dismissing a workplace tort claim.

Louise Roberts filed a complaint against her employer, Amtrust Bank, alleging age and gender discrimination, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things.

Amtrust asked the court to dismiss the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because the facts alleged didn’t meet the outrageousness requirement of that tort. In response, Roberts stated that the "outrageous" conduct requirement for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is "currently defined beyond reason and should be modified."

Under Florida law, to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a complaint must allege four elements: (1) deliberate or reckless infliction of mental suffering; (2) outrageous conduct; (3) the conduct caused the emotional distress; and (4) the distress was severe. Whether conduct is outrageous enough to support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is a question of law, not a question of fact, the court said. The subjective response of the person targeted by the conduct is not relevant as to whether the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress occurred.

Although the court didn’t provide specifics regarding the alleged conduct, it said that, even if the allegations were true, they still did not meet the standard of being "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." The cited conduct concerns allegations that Roberts was held to a "higher" standard than other employees and was subjected to criticisms of her work performance and unjust evaluations. Given the outrageousness requirement, the court found that the alleged behavior did not meet the standard.

Responding to Roberts’ request that it redefine the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress to include relief for these types of allegations, the court noted that courts generally have been hesitant to allow intentional infliction of emotional distress claims that arise from abuses in the workplace. Ordinary sexual harassment by co-workers, for instance, is generally not considered to be outrageous conduct, even when the harassment is flagrant, the court said, dismissing the tort claim.

Roberts v. Amtrust Bank, S.D. Fla., Case No. 14-81266-CIV-MARRA/MATTHEWMA (Dec. 22, 2014).

Rosemarie Lally, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

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