A US appeals court on Nov. 2 said an oil pipeline operator cannot be held liable for the alleged sexual harassment of a contractor’s employee under anti-discrimination laws, but revived her bid to bring fresh claims against the company stemming from its control of the worksite, Reuters reported.
Jessica Adams, the plaintiff, worked on a pipeline construction crew for C3 Pipeline Construction Inc., which provided construction and maintenance services under a contract with Alpha Crude Connector LLC, or ACC, on an ACC pipeline system in New Mexico and Texas.
Adams alleged that three C3 workers sexually harassed her while they were working on the ACC project in New Mexico. She sued C3 and Plains Defendants, which subsequently acquired ACC, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New Mexico Human Rights Act and New Mexico tort law.
A three-judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of Adams’ claim that ACC was her joint employer because it lacked the power to hire, fire, discipline and supervise her, and had no control over the C3 employees who allegedly harassed her.
However, the 10th circuit panel said Adams had sufficiently alleged that Alpha Crude Connector LLC controlled the New Mexico site where she worked for C3 Pipeline Construction Inc., so she could file an amended complaint accusing the company of premises liability.
In New Mexico, an employer of an independent contractor generally is not liable for injuries to an employee of the independent contractor, according to the court’s filing. However, there are exceptions, including “where the employer controls the premises on which the work is being performed,” the court noted.