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John C. P. Goldberg & Benjamin C. Zipursky, Sherman v. Department of Public Safety: Institutional Responsibility for Sexual Assault, 16 J. Tort L. (2023).


Abstract: This article addresses the intersection of three important topics: sexual assault, police misconduct, and employer liability for employee torts. As to the last of these, while there have long been debates among jurists in the U.S. concerning the proper scope of respondeat superior liability, courts have mostly adhered to an approach that focuses on whether the employee acted for the purpose of serving the employer’s interests. The narrowness of this purpose-based test, as compared to available alternatives, makes it imperative for lawyers, judges, and scholars to be attentive to other, less well-known, bases for employer liability. In Sherman v Department of Public Safety, the Delaware Supreme Court applied a particular version of one such doctrine – the “aided-by-agency” doctrine – to hold a police department accountable for its officer’s sexual assault of an arrestee. By articulating this doctrine in a thoughtful and circumscribed manner, the Court affirmed its reputation as a leader in the development of agency law, while also providing a helpful framework that can be applied to hold certain employers liable when employees take advantage of their employment-based authority over their victims to perpetrate assaults.