Suit alleging Home Depot negligence in killing revived

Suit alleging Home Depot negligence in killing revived

CHICAGO — An appeals court has restored a civil lawsuit that blames Home Depot for not firing a suburban Chicago supervisor with a history of sexual harassment who ended up strangling a 21-year-old pregnant subordinate — in a civil case focused on the liability of companies when supervisors use their authority to hurt co-workers away from work.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a lower court decision that threw out the suit, which stems from the 2012 killing of Alisha Bromfield and her fetus by her then 37-year-old supervisor, Brian Cooper, while they attended a wedding at a Wisconsin resort 300 miles from Chicago.

The ruling cites statistics that at least 60 people have been intentionally killed by co-workers in recent years in the U.S., adding that “Alisha’s story is an old story that has been told too many times.”

Cooper, of Plainfield, who raped Bromfield after killing her, was sentenced to life in prison in 2014.

The Illinois woman’s mother, Sherry Anicich, later sued Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., alleging it knew of Cooper’s history of verbal abuse and should have sacked him long before. Also named as defendants are Grand Service, LLC, and Grand Flower Growers, Inc., which managed garden centres at the Home Depot stores. All three jointly employed Cooper as a regional manager, says the 22-page ruling posted late on Friday. Bromfield, who was also from Plainfield, was a seasonal employee for the home-improvement company and worked at several Chicago-area Home Depots.

The ruling said that a decisive question a jury would have to decide as the case goes back to U.S. district court is whether Cooper used the supervisory authority he wielded over Bromfield at work to force her to go to the wedding of his sister in Wisconsin; he allegedly threatened to fire her if she didn’t go. If he used that power as a supervisor, Home Depot and the co-defendants could be held liable for the deaths.

Kristin Barnette, a Chicago-based attorney for Bromfield’s mother, heralded the ruling. She said it helps establish that recklessly granting supervisory powers can potentially be as deadly as recklessly handing unfit workers a buzz saw or other dangerous tools. Liability, she said the ruling found, didn’t rely on whether abuses occurred on workplace grounds.

A spokesman for Atlanta-based Home Depot, Stephen Holmes, said company lawyers were still considering options, which he said could include an appeal. But he added: “First and foremost, our sympathy is with (Bromfield’s) family.” He said Cooper was technically not a contract employee of Home Depot but agreed the court said he was treated as an employee for practical purposes.

Over Bromfield’s five years working off and on for Home Depot, Cooper would also curse and throw things at her, sometimes in public, according to court filings. She repeatedly told top managers about the abuse and said that she never wanted to be alone with Cooper.

Just Posted

WATCH: Christmas Wish Breakfast toy donations almost double

All toys donated Sunday will be given to the Red Deer Christmas Bureau and Red Deer Salvation Army

VIDEO: ‘Party bus’ goes up in flames in Vancouver

Fire crews responded to the late night blaze

Mothers Against Drunk Driving hold candlelight vigil

Four-and-a-half years ago Marilyn Rinas’ husband was killed in a collision with… Continue reading

Thousands expected at memorial for fallen police officer in Abbotsford, B.C.

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The streets of Abbotsford, B.C., will be lined with… Continue reading

One person dead, five others injured in early-morning crash in Kingston, Ont.

KINGSTON, Ont. — A man who was checking the damage on his… Continue reading

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer: Nov. 19

Watch news highlights from the week of Nov. 13

CP Holiday train to stop in Ponoka for another year

The popular train will feature entertainment from Colin James and Emma-Lee

Kittens rescued after allegedly being tossed from vehicle

Couple finds abandoned kittens new home through Facebook

VIDEO: ‘Party bus’ goes up in flames in Vancouver

Fire crews responded to the late night blaze

Chicken crosses B.C. road, stops traffic

Rooster makes early morning commuters wait in Maple Ridge

Red Deerian honours her brother who died in a motorcycle collision

Houaida Haddad is encouraging Red Deer residents to donate blood

Red Deer County firefighters to be recognized for Waterton help

RCMP brass will give formal recognition Monday

Ron James tries to lighten humanity’s load through humour

The comedian returns to Red Deer for shows Dec. 1 and 2

100+ Women Red Deer donate to Christmas Bureau

About $14,000 will help with Christmas hampers and toys

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month