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Appeals court reinstates public defender’s case over stalker

March 23, 2019

SEATTLE (AP) — A state appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit filed by a former King County public defender who says the agency she worked for failed to protect her when she was stalked by a client.

Sheila LaRose said the Public Defender Association failed to inform her that her client had previously harassed another female attorney in the office, prompting him to be reassigned to a male attorney. LaRose said she too asked to be reassigned, but her supervisor appeared angry about the request and she dropped it because the case was nearly finished.

Harassing and disturbing phone calls from the client escalated, however, and though she continued to complain about them to her superiors, she did not renew her request to be reassigned, and her bosses took no action beyond suggesting she call the police. She estimated she received more than 1,000 calls from the client, who is identified by a pseudonym in court papers because the details of her representation are confidential.

The client also repeatedly came to her house, broke her bedroom window, threatened her life, left lingerie on her car and jumped out at her in a parking garage. He was eventually arrested and is serving a seven-year sentence.

LaRose took medical leave for PTSD in 2015 and was fired in 2017 because she was unable to work.

A trial court judge found the county and the agency could not be held liable for harassment by a non-employee. In a ruling this week, the state Court of Appeals reinstated her claims for negligence and a hostile work environment under state anti-discrimination law, saying they fell within circumstances when employers can be held liable for workplace harassment by an outside party. The case now returns to Pierce County Superior Court.

“There is evidence that both (the county and the agency) had notice of the harassment while they employed LaRose and whether they took adequate corrective action will be a question of fact for the trier of fact,” the appeals court wrote.