Should a claim of intention infliction of emotional distress be treated differently if it occurs in the workplace as opposed to a non-employment situation? This question was answered in Ingraham v. Ortho-McnNeill, 422 NJ. Super. 12 (App. Div. 2011)
Plaintiff Cecelia Mavica Ingraham was employed by defendant Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical between 1994 and 2006. The plaintiff had one child, Tatiana, who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2003. At the time, Tatiana was a junior in high school and a member of several honors societies; a student at the New Jersey School of Ballet; and was planning on attending Cornell University to study biology. Unfortunately in 2005, Tatiana contracted an infection and passed away.
In remembrance of her daughter, plaintiff kept pictures of her as well as her ballet shoes in her work space. Although sympathetic, many of her co-workers felt uncomfortable with the frequency of conversations plaintiff initiated involving the death of her daughter. A year and a half later, a supervisor confronted plaintiff and asked her to stop.
Plaintiff quit and sued, alleging that she suffered emotional distress along with heart palpitations from the abuse. She filed a three-count complaint alleging a violation of
- New Jersey Law Against Discrimination N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49 (“LAD”)
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress and
- Constructive discharge
The court reasoned that in order for a plaintiff to prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, he or she must prove that
- defendant acted intentionally or recklessly;
- defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous;
- defendant’s conduct was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s emotional distress; and
- the emotional distress suffered by plaintiff was so severe that no reasonable [person] could be expected to endure it.
Id. at 366-67.
Defendants argued that the plaintiff could not prove the first or second elements as a matter of law. The court agreed, stating:
The law provides no different standard of proof that applies in the workplace from other places where emotional distress might result. The employer-employee relationship is no more special and conductive to emotional distress than, for example, a doctor-patent relationship, or the relationship of a husband and wife in a hostile divorce.
Id. at 1196.
The court also stated that “[i]t is extremely rare to find conduct in the employment context that will rise to the level of outrageousness necessary to provide a basis for recovery for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Id. at 23-24.
The court concluded that the evidence provided by the plaintiff was not sufficient to support a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Moreover, it held that intentional infliction of emotional distress cases that arise in the workplace are analyzed the same way as they would in non-employment settings. The conduct must be exceptionally egregious. In this case, it was not.