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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Revives Claims Of Mentally Disabled Worker

HELENA, Mont. (CN) - The Montana Supreme Court revived the tort claims of a former McDonald's worker whose manager allegedly exploited her mental disability by fondling her in the restaurant's stockroom, having sex with her after shifts and freeing up her work schedule for sexual excursions.

Defendant Alex Keeton admits that he knew the woman was mentally disabled, but told her repeatedly that he loved her and would marry her if he ever left his wife. He also told her that he could "have a lot of women" because he was Mormon, according to a lawsuit filed by legal guardian Mary Mallory.

A psychiatrist determined that the 24-year-old employee had "severe to moderate mental retardation," an IQ of 57, and the emotional maturity of a 3- or 4-year-old.

In April 2002, after Keeton dropped off his wife at the airport, he drove to the employee's apartment and told her pack for a week-long stay at his house, where they had sex, the lawsuit claims. But after intercourse, Keeton allegedly drove her back to her apartment and dumped her.

The woman eventually told her sister about the relationship, who reported Keeton's conduct to McDonald's. Keeton later admitted to the sexual relationship and was fired.

The employee's guardian sued Keeton for initiating the sexual relationship and for discrimination, and claimed McDonald's had negligently allowed him to take advantage of an employee.

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, in part because a neuropsychologist testified that, despite the employee's pre-teen reasoning abilities, she has the capacity to consent to sex and "understands the physiological consequences of sexual intercourse to the extent that she utilized birth control."

The high court reversed summary judgment on Mallory's tort claims, saying a reasonable jury could find that the employee lacked the mental ability to consent to sex. It also held that the tort claims are not barred by the Montana Human Rights Act, because non-consensual sex "goes far beyond any reasonable conception of 'sexual harassment' and falls outside MHRA's definition of 'discrimination' in employment."

But the court dismissed Mallory's discrimination claim, ruling that it is trumped by the tort claims, because they are based on the same allegations.

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