Brennan’s of Houston. (Flickr Creative Commons/Ed Schipul)

A partner in the Houston office of a large international firm has filed a $20 million lawsuit against Brennan’s of Houston, alleging her career was damaged after she was raped by a Brennan’s bartender in 2015 who “slipped a drug” into her drink and overserved her with alcohol.

The woman, listed as Jane Doe in the petition filed in state district court in Houston on Jan. 28, alleged that she has suffered “extreme emotional distress” from the rape and its aftermath, and it has interfered with her work.

Brennan’s has not denied that the alleged rape took place but has denied that the company or its proprietor is liable.

In a telephone interview arranged by her lawyer, the plaintiff, who has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said she took leave from her firm last summer because of the stress and difficulty in concentrating she experienced due to nightmares and insomnia. She said the incident has affected her career and her earning capacity.

“On Aug. 17, 2018, the distress reached a point where she has had to take medical leave from her firm, and she is currently undergoing treatment for PTSD. Her distress has cost her a tremendous amount in lost earnings, along with medical and counseling expenses,” the partner’s petition said. “At this point, she does not know when she will be able to return to work in any capacity, and she will undoubtedly continue to struggle with the emotional ramifications of this rape for the rest of her life.”

In her petition, the woman asserts that Brennan’s of Houston is liable for the conduct of the bartender, who died last year, and a manager who allegedly took her out of the restaurant when she was “visibly incapacitated.” She alleges the restaurant breached its duty of care to her when it failed to properly manage and supervise its employees, and was negligent.

She is seeking damages for pain and suffering, physical impairment, medical expenses and loss of earnings and earning capacity, the petition said.

Alex Brennan-Martin, proprietor of Brennan’s of Houston, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations. However, the company said in a statement that it was “shocked and appalled” when a patron identified as Jane Doe alleged that two employees of the restaurant assaulted her in her home. Brennan’s said in the statement that the employees were terminated in part because of the allegation.

“While we condemn what she states happened to her in the strongest terms, we strenuously dispute any allegation that Brennan’s or Mr. Brennan-Martin (proprietor) is somehow responsible for the actions of individuals off work and off premises,” the written statement continued.

In her petition, the woman alleges that the former bartender sexually assaulted her, and that a former manager aided and abetted it.

In a telephone interview, the unnamed plaintiff said she tried very hard to maintain her law practice and didn’t take leave until last summer because “women keep going, successful lawyers keep going.” She said she forced herself to get up and go to work every day, but it became increasingly difficult to deal with the nightmares and insomnia she was experiencing.

“It’s hard to concentrate,” she said.

The stress, and the need to take leave, hit the plaintiff at a critical time in her career, she said. As a partner who has been practicing law for 12 years, the plaintiff said, she should have been eligible for a promotion to equity partner soon, but she has not been able to do the marketing required to reach that level.

‘My ability to maintain relationships is extremely difficult. Building new ones is almost impossible,” the plaintiff said, adding that her goal is to return to her practice.

She said she told her firm about the assault right away. She declined to discuss how the firm has handled her situation.

As detailed in Jane Doe v. Brennan’s of Houston, the plaintiff and a male colleague from her firm went to Brennan’s at about 5:15 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2015. After her colleague left at about 6:45 p.m., the plaintiff alleged, she sat at the bar for dinner, where Sean Kerrigan was the sole bartender.

“Almost immediately upon the colleague’s departure, Kerrigan ‘spilled’ plaintiff’s drink and replaced it with a bourbon-based drink ‘on the house.’ Kerrigan drugged plaintiff with this drink,” her petition alleges.

The plaintiff has no memory of finishing that drink, the petition said, and little memory of the rest of the evening. She alleges that she later learned Kerrigan and another man, who was then a manager of the restaurant, took her from Brennan’s to another bar, and then took to her house, where she lived alone.

She alleges that Kerrigan raped her an unknown number of times at her house that night, and the manager at a minimum aided and abetted the rape and the continued assault.

She went to a hospital emergency room in Houston the next day where she was examined, a rape kit was collected and “significant vaginal and other physical injuries consistent with rape were documented,” the petition said.

In July 2018, Kerrigan was indicted for felony aggravated sexual assault of the plaintiff, and separately for felony sexual assault of another woman. Kerrigan died in November 2018, according to the petition, and in January, both charges were dismissed, according to Harris County District Clerk records.

A lawyer for the plaintiff, Peter Taaffe, of counsel at the Buzbee Law Firm in Houston, said the timing of the filing of the civil suit against Brennan’s is unrelated to Kerrigan’s death and the  dismissal of the criminal charges.

The plaintiff said she decided to sue Brennan’s when she realized, after viewing surveillance video, that Brennan-Martin made “numerous misrepresentations” to her about who was present in the restaurant that night, and what might have been done to prevent the events of Oct. 15, 2015, from happening.

In its statement, Brennan’s said that at the plaintiff’s emailed request in 2017, the restaurant cooperated with law enforcement because she was pressing charges against Kerrigan.

“In the same email correspondence, she thanked Mr. Brennan-Martin for his ‘swift action’ and expressly stated that Brennan’s was ‘not at fault,’” Brennan’s wrote in the statement. “Unfortunately, one of the employees passed away in November 2018 before Ms. Doe’s charges against him could be tried in a court of law. And today, sadly, she contradicted her previous statements with the filing of this lawsuit against Brennan’s.”