Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc. v. Zeltwanger

144 S.W.3d 438 (2004)

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Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc. v. Zeltwanger

Texas Supreme Court
144 S.W.3d 438 (2004)

Facts

Joan Zeltwanger (plaintiff) worked for Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc. (Hoffman-LaRoche) (defendant) as a pharmaceutical sales rep prior to her termination. Zeltwanger’s supervisor, Jim Webber, sexually harassed Zeltwanger by telling dirty jokes, talking about having sex, and asking her if she was wearing underwear in front of colleagues and clients. Zeltwanger filed a complaint against Webber, and subsequently, Webber gave Zeltwanger a negative performance review. When Hoffman-LaRoche finished investigating Zeltwanger’s sexual-harassment claims, Webber was fired. However, a few months later, Zeltwanger was also fired. Zeltwanger successfully sued Hoffman-LaRoche for sexual harassment under Texas law and for the common-law tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury’s award for Zeltwanger’s sexual-harassment claim was around $8.5 million dollars for her emotional harm and punitive damages. The jury’s award on Zeltwanger’s intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim was around $9 million dollars for emotional harm and punitive damages. Because these awards were duplicative, and because the statutory cap for compensatory and punitive damages on a sexual-harassment claim for large companies, such as Hoffman-LaRoche, was only $300,000, Zeltwanger moved, and a trial court permitted her, to reduce the damages awarded on the sexual-harassment claim to wages and attorney’s fees and to receive her award for emotional harm and punitive damages on her claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. An appellate court affirmed, and Hoffman-LaRoche appealed the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. On appeal, Hoffman-LaRoche argued that Zeltwanger used her intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim to circumvent the statutory cap on damages permitted by the legislature for her sexual-harassment claim by receiving uncapped damages for emotional harm and punitive damages arising from the same behavior cited in the sexual-harassment claim. Zeltwanger argued that independent facts justified the trial court’s finding of extreme and outrageous conduct as was required to recover on a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Phillips, C.J.)

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