Saturday, December 10, 2011

U.S. District Court holds that continuing violation doctrine does not apply to insurance coverage disputes

Luciano Mangenalla owned and, after selling the company in 2005 to Lerner, managed a women's clothing boutique called Jasmine.

In 1998 Jasmine was sued by Sonia Bawa, a former employee, for sexual harassment. In the wake of the lawsuit Manganella caused Jasmine to purchase an Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) policy from Evanston Insurance Company. The insurance application stated that, except for the Bawa matter, Jasmine was unaware of any outstanding instances, real or alleged, of claims of wrongful employment practices including sexual harassment. Burgess, Jasmine's human resources manager, warranted that the statement was true.

In or after 2005 Manganella was terminated for sexually harassing four Jasmine employees, including Burgess.

In 2007 Burgess filed a complaint against Manganella, Jasmine, and Lerner at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She alleged that since she began her employment in 1997, Manganella subjected her to nearly constant physical and verbal sexual harassment, and on five occasions intimidated her into engaging in sexual acts with him.

Evanston denied coverage because the "wrongful Employment Practice" had not occurred entirely during the coverage period.

At a subsequent deposition Burgess testified that she had not felt physically or emotionally threatened by Manganella before the fall of 1999, although he had made inappropriate comments before then.

Evanston argued that the continuing violation doctrine made Manganella's acts before the policy period part of a continuing pattern of harassment, so that even if Burgess did not feel threatened prior to the policy period the harassment began prior to the policy period, precluding coverage.

In Manganella v. Evanston Ins. Co., 2011 WL 5118898 (D. Mass. 2011), the court rejected the argument, noting that the continuing violation doctrine is intended to ameliorate the potentially draconian effects of the relatively short statute of limitations that governs discrimination claims. The court held that the doctrine should not be applied to shrink relief available to an insured.

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