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Alleged sexual assault by work-release inmate not comp exclusive


A North Carolina furniture transportation company must defend against a lawsuit by a worker who says he was sexually assaulted by a work-release prison inmate because the incident is not subject to workers compensation exclusivity, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The claimant, a warehouse worker, sued Hickory-based Sunbelt Furniture Xpress Inc. over the alleged December 2019 sexual assault by a North Carolina Department of Corrections inmate who was assigned to Sunbelt Furniture as part of a prison work-release program.

The employer said inmates employed through the program are deemed suitable for work among the non-prison population and that it doesn’t accept inmates to the program who have been convicted of sex offenses.

The plaintiff sued Sunbelt Furniture in December 2022 and a trial judge in June 2023 denied a motion by the company to dismiss the case.

On appeal, the company argued that the case was subject to exclusive remedy, a common defense in workplace sexual assault cases.  

The appeals court disagreed, finding that while the injury from the assault occurred in the workplace, the sexual assault was not considered to have arisen out of the plaintiff’s employment with Sunbelt Furniture.