Law School Case Brief
White v. Monsanto Co. - 585 So. 2d 1205 (La. 1991)
In order to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must establish: (1) that the conduct of the defendant was extreme and outrageous; (2) that the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff was severe; and (3) that the defendant desired to inflict severe emotional distress or knew that severe emotional distress would be certain or substantially certain to result from his conduct. The conduct must be 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. Liability does not extend to mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other trivialities.
Plaintiff Irma White was employed in the labor pool at defendant Monsanto Company's refinery for several years. Defendant Gary McDermott was the industrial foreman of that department. Plaintiff and three other employees were assigned at the beginning of the work day to transfer a certain chemical from a large container into smaller containers. When they arrived at their work station and noticed that the container was marked "hazardous-corrosive," they requested rubber gloves and goggles before starting their assigned task. Shop rules required that employees busy themselves while waiting for equipment. One of the employees went to another area to do some work. Plaintiff started doing some clean-up or pick-up work around the area. The other two employees were apparently sitting around waiting for the equipment. Someone reported to McDermott that the group was idle, causing McDermott to become angry. He went to the work station and launched a profane tirade at the three workers present, including plaintiff, referring to them as "mother fuckers," accusing them of sitting on their "fucking asses," and threatening to "show them to the gate." The tirade lasted for about a minute. Plaintiff was upset and began to experience pain in her chest, pounding in her head, and had difficulty breathing. She was hospitalized, but she returned to work within a week. She filed an action against defendants employer and supervisor, alleging that the supervisor's conduct amounted to the intentional infliction of mental anguish and emotional distress. The jury found the employer and the supervisor liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, awarding the employee damages. Defendants sought review.
Was defendant supervisor's profane one-minute outburst of such an extreme or outrageous nature as to give rise to a cause of action by plaintiff employee for intentional infliction of emotional distress?
Reversing and ruling in favor of defendants, the Supreme Court of Louisiana held that plaintiff employee had failed to establish her right to recover for an intentional tort. The supervisor's conduct in the one-minute outburst of profanity was not of such an extreme or outrageous nature as to give rise to a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The vile language used was not so extreme or outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as utterly intolerable in a civilized community. Such conduct, although crude, rough, and uncalled for, was not tortious and did not give rise to a cause of action for damages. The supervisor's duty here was to not engage in extreme or outrageous conduct intended or calculated to cause severe emotional distress. The duty was not breached because the conduct was not extreme or outrageous to a degree calculated to cause severe emotional distress to a person of ordinary sensibilities and the supervisor did not intend to inflict emotional distress of a severe nature, nor did he believe such a result was substantially certain to follow from his conduct.
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