Under the theory of respondeat superior, an employer may be vicariously liable for the torts of its employee. In order to prevail on a claim of vicarious liability, the plaintiff must show two elements: (1) that an employer-employee relationship exists and (2) that the alleged conduct occurred within the course and the scope of employment.
The conduct of an employee is within the scope of his employment if three elements are met: (1) it’s the kind of conduct for which the employee was hired, (2) it happened during working hours and within the work space, and (3) it was motivated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve his employer.
In a recent decision, Murray v. Uber Technologies, Inc. and Frederick Q. Amfo, the federal district court for the District of Massachusetts addressed the application of respondeat superior in a case involving a sexual assault. The plaintiff sued both Uber and an Uber driver, alleging that she had been sexually assaulted during a ride. The plaintiff claimed, in part, that Uber was vicariously liable for the misconduct of its driver. Uber moved to dismiss that claim, arguing that it couldn’t be held vicariously liable for the driver’s misconduct because (1) the driver was not its employee and (2) the alleged assault occurred outside the scope of the driver’s contract.
Without deciding whether the Uber driver was an employee, the Court dismissed the claim based on respondeat superior because, “as a matter of law, sexual assault necessarily falls outside the scope of employment.” In dismissing that claim, the Court relied on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decisions and its long-standing view that “rape and sexual assault … do not serve the interests of the employer” and are “not motivated by a purpose to serve the employer.” As the Court summed it up, “in Massachusetts, employers may not be held vicariously liable for the sexual misconduct of their employees.”