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Female employees at Pitney Bowes seeking to sue their supervisor for intentional infliction of emotional distress may have a way of doing so. In upholding a prejudgment remedy granted against their boss, the state Appellate Court refused to broaden a 2002 state Supreme Court ruling that bars negligent infliction of emotional distress claims by employees not yet terminated from their jobs. In that case, Perodeau v. City of Hartford, the Supreme Court held that employees “reasonably should expect to experience some level of emotional distress, even significant emotional distress” in the workplace. But ruling in Geraldine Benton, et al. v. Gary Simpson Aug. 19, the appeals court distinguished between negligent and intentional emotional distress. Namely, the court emphasized that it is less burdensome to prove negligent infliction of emotional distress; for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress to survive, the intent to cause injury must be established. “Consequently, the policy concerns expressed by the [ Perodeau] court are not readily applicable to claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress,” the appeals court ruled in a decision penned by Judge Alexandra D. DiPentima. Jeffrey Babbin, an appellate attorney at Wiggin & Dana who represented Simpson on appeal, had warned that upholding a prejudgment remedy against his client could have a detrimental effect on the relationship between employers and employees throughout the state. In Perodeau, the Supreme Court held that, if such negligent infliction of emotional distress claims were allowed, “employees who fear lawsuits by fellow employees … may be less frank in performance evaluations, and may make employment decisions … on the basis of fear of suit rather than business needs or desires.” But because intentional infliction of emotional distress claims are harder to prove, the “safety interest” of employees to be protected against such conduct is greater than it is to be protected against negligent infliction of emotional distress, DiPentima noted. Babbin argued the Pitney Bowes employees should not be able to “get around Perodeau” by misusing the intentional infliction of emotional distress tort to resolve conflicts in the workplace. Still, he acknowledged that he has no plans to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. “ While we feel quite strongly about the fact that intentional infliction of emotional distress has limits in the workplace in this context, this may not be the best vehicle to appeal from a prejudgment remedy,” Babbin said. “We will prevail in the trial court. We will focus our resources there. In the end, there won’t be any liability,” he vowed. In August 2001, the female plaintiffs who work in the office systems division in Pitney Bowes’ Trumbull office applied for a prejudgment remedy seeking to attach Simpson’s property to sufficiently secure a monetary award of up to $500,000. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted an application ordering the attachment on the equity in Simpson’s home in the amount of $25,000 per each of the four plaintiffs. The women allege they suffer from depression, anxiety and other physical symptoms of stress because of Simpson’s behavior, which included fist-pounding tirades and open, verbal displays of anger. Among other verbal abuse, the women claim Simpson repeatedly referred to some of them as a “cancer,” and told one plaintiff, “You women make me sick, you disgust me. I feel sorry for anybody that has to work for you.”

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