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ARC: HOW COMPANIES CAN PROPERLY CONDUCT CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS ON WORKERS AND POTENTIAL HIRES

City worker can sue employer in co-worker rape case: Ohio Supreme Court

State Capitol of Ohio
Front view of the State Capitol of Ohio in Columbus, Ohio.

A city worker can sue her employer for intentional tort after a co-worker with a criminal record raped her while working a night shift, a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The ruling in Vacha v. The City of North Ridgeville upholds an appeals court finding that North Ridgeville, Ohio, can be sued for intentional tort despite an Ohio law granting “political subdivisions” immunity in civil cases.

But the Supreme Court's ruling does not disturb the appeals court's earlier finding that Ohio's workers compensation law precludes the claimant from suing for negligence and recklessness in hiring and supervision.

The case involves two wastewater treatment plant workers, including Charles Ralston, who is the father of two children who are also North Ridgeville Mayor David G. Gillock's grandchildren, court records state.

The mayor had asked a plant supervisor to grant Mr. Ralston a job interview, and the city did not conduct a criminal background check of Mr. Ralston, who was unemployed and behind on child support payments, the ruling states.

The mayor, however, did not know that Mr. Ralston had a criminal record of misdemeanor domestic violence and disorderly conduct, according to the court ruling.

Mr. Ralston was subsequently hired by the city in 2004.

Mr. Ralston and the plaintiff, Lisa Vacha worked together on a 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift in 2006, generally alone and unsupervised. On June 2, 2006, Ms. Vacha allowed Mr. Ralston to drive her car to buy beer and after he returned he raped and assaulted her, the ruling states.

In 2008, Ms. Vacha sued Mr. Ralston and North Ridgeville. Among other claims, she alleged the city acted with “intentional, willful, and wanton disregard of the safety of others in selecting, supervising, and controlling Ralston — an employer intentional tort.”

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A trial court rejected the city's request for summary judgment regarding that allegation, and the city appealed, arguing that Ohio law grants political subdivisions immunity from liability.

But the appeals court affirmed, holding that an intentional tort may arise out of an employment relationship between a political subdivision and an employee.

A 4-2 majority of the Supreme Court agreed, finding that a civil action by a political subdivision employee alleging intentional tort against his or her employer may fall within an exception to the law granting political-subdivision immunity.

“North Ridgeville did not establish that it is entitled to political-subdivision immunity on Vacha's employer-intentional-tort claim as a matter of law,” the majority said.

But in a dissent, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy expressed skepticism that Ms. Vacha can prove an intentional tort should the case continue.

“There is no evidence that the city acted with deliberate intent to harm Vacha,” the justice wrote. “For that reason, I would dismiss her complaint for failing to establish a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

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