Law360 and Texas Lawyer each highlighted new developments in a nine-year legal battle between Steak ‘n Shake and a former employee who filed a sexual assault lawsuit against the casual restaurant chain after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a manager during a late-night shift in 2011. A ruling by the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas this week sets the stage for a jury trial.
A three-justice panel of the Fifth Court of Appeals sided with the employee, identified only as B.C., and agreed that issues of fact preclude Steak ‘n Shake’s hanging onto a summary judgment win in the lawsuit, which has been pending since 2011.
The lawsuit’s epic journey through Texas appellate courts includes two separate opinions from the Supreme Court of Texas, one of which resulted in a closely watched ruling that sexual assault claims are not the same as sexual harassment and are not required to be brought under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. In addition to the Supreme Court of Texas, the case has been considered on three different occasions by the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas.
The third time was a charm at the Fifth Court. In two previous rulings, the court upheld a summary judgment ruling for Steak ‘n Shake Operations Inc. that had dismissed plaintiff B.C.’s case. But this third ruling overturned the restaurant’s victory and the nine-year-old case will return to the trial court where it can proceed to a trial.
B.C.’s trial court attorney, Matthew McCarley, said he appreciated the opinion and its right ruling, but it’s unfortunate it took nine years to get here. He said [appellate lawyer Matt Kita] did a great job with the appeals.
“We had to go to the Supreme Court twice, and the last time, we went and got in there on a motion for rehearing—those aren’t granted very often,” said McCarley, partner in Fears Nachawati in Dallas. “All I can say is the outcome speaks for itself. We were successful, and got the outcome we wanted. I think it was good, good work.”