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Court Upholds $6M Award in Strip-Search Case

(CN) - McDonald's is not protected by the Workers' Compensation Law in the case of an employee who was strip searched and sexually assaulted as employees followed the instructions of a telephone prankster, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled after affirming the employee's $6 million award.

In 2004, Louise Ogborn had finished her shift and was eating a meal before starting a second shift when assistant manager Donna Summers called her into the manager's officer.

Acting at the direction of an anonymous caller, Summers ordered Ogborn to be strip-searched under suspicion of stealing a customer's wallet or purse.

Several others were called to the office to sit with Ogborn over the next three hours. One was Summers' fiancé, Walter Nix, who spanked and sexually assaulted Ogborn on the orders of the anonymous caller posing as a police officer.

Ogborn sued McDonald's, Summers, and assistant manager Kim Dockery, who had given Ogborn an apron during the alleged ordeal but then returned to work.

McDonald's filed a third-party suit against David Stewart, a security guard who was suspected as the prank caller. However, Stewart was acquitted, and McDonald's did not pursue a lawsuit against the unknown caller.

Ogborn presented evidence that McDonald's had received several similar prank calls since 1994 but had consciously refused to tell its managers and train them to make sure not to act on the hoax phone calls again.

The jury ruled in Ogborn's favor on her claims of sexual harassment, false imprisonment, negligence, premises liability and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ogborn was awarded $1.2 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages.

McDonald's appealed, arguing that Ogborn's only avenue to collect damages is under the Workers' Compensation Act.

Judge Glenn Acree ruled in Ogborn's favor.

"Ogborn clocked out before any of the events giving rise to her causes of action occurred," Acree wrote. "We do not find manifest injustice in the trial court's ruling that Ogborn was not acting in the course and scope of her employment while she was held in the manager's office."

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