Key point 10-04. A church may be liable on the basis of negligent selection for a worker’s molestation of a minor if the church was negligent in the selection of the worker. Negligence means a failure to exercise reasonable care, and so negligent selection refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care in the selection of the worker. Liability based on negligent selection may be imposed upon a church for the acts of employees and volunteers.
Key point 10-04.2. Some courts have found churches not liable on the basis of negligent selection for the molestation of a minor by a church worker since the church exercised reasonable care in the selection of the worker.
* A New York court ruled that a church was not liable on the basis of negligent hiring for the molestation of a minor student by a teacher. Prior to hiring the teacher the church contacted one of the three personal references listed on her employment application. This reference, who was a parent of a student who attended the church’s school, stated that she had known the teacher for many years and considered her to be “a wonderful person.” The church did not contact the other two references, and did not confirm the teacher’s prior employment history or contact any of her prior employers for a reference. The church did conduct a “Safe Environment” background check, which did not indicate that the teacher had been engaged in any prior criminal misconduct.
‘There is nothing here to indicate that a further investigation of [the teacher] was necessary.’
The church hired the teacher as a part-time music and gym teacher for kindergarten through the eighth grade. She groomed and eventually sexually assaulted one of her students. The victim sued the church, claiming that it was responsible for the teacher’s acts on the basis of negligent hiring. The court noted that “a necessary element of negligent hiring is that the employer knew or should have known of an employee’s propensity for the conduct that caused the injury.” The court pointed out that the church had contacted one reference, and conducted a “Safe Environment” criminal records check, which revealed no prior misconduct. Any duty to investigate further into the teacher’s fitness and background “may be imposed upon the employer only if it knew facts that would lead a reasonably prudent person to investigate the prospective employee. There is nothing here to indicate that a further investigation of [the teacher] was necessary, as there was nothing criminal in her background check. While [the church] may not have confirmed or contacted anyone from her prior work experience [the victim] has not submitted any evidence showing that checking more references would have revealed any improper conduct …. As such, the cause of action for negligent hiring is dismissed.” Jones v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese, 918 N.Y.S.2d 398 (N.Y. Sup. 2010).
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