Doe v. Samaritan Counseling

“Clergy sexual misconduct gets the most attention when boundary violations are discussed. Olsen and Devor believe that focus gets in the way of addressing the need for other kinds of boundaries that help ministry to flourish.” – The Christian Century Review of Saying No To Say Yes by David Olsen, Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling and Nancy Devor

I just found this case today and the arguments set forth seem highly relevant, not only because it has to do with Samaritan Counseling, but because it has to do with mishandled transference and employer v. employee liability based on whether the misconduct is within the scope of job requirements.

Here is the Supreme Court of Alaska’s decision. I don’t totally understand all the legal terms.

Doe v. Samaritan Counseling

“Jane Doe argues that Samaritan should be held liable for the acts of one of its pastoral counselors, Reverend/Dr. John Garvin. Doe went to Samaritan for emotional and spiritual counseling. During two of her sessions with Garvin, kissing and fondling allegedly took place. After Doe cancelled her counseling sessions with Garvin, the two allegedly met and had sexual intercourse. Doe claims that she suffered emotional harm as a result of Garvin’s abuse of their therapist-patient relationship. On summary judgment the superior court held that Samaritan could not be held liable for Garvin’s actions on grounds of respondeat superior…

…this relationship was found to have caused the patient emotional problems so devastating that years later she attempted to commit suicide.”

Bad Samaritans Make Dangerous Precedent: The Perils of Holding an Employer Liable for an Employee’s Sexual Misconduct

“This illustration suggests that a clinic should not be vicariously liable for a therapist’s sexual misconduct simply because the transference phenomenon the therapist manipulates is a common factor in both a responsible and irresponsible relationship with a patient. The real issue is whether his sole motive in manipulating this phenomenon is for his personal gratification. The very nature of a therapist’s deliberate sexual misconduct indicates that his motive is purely personal because such behavior completely undermines his authorized role as a counselor.”

I would argue that this argument of personal gratification (and the one about noncommercial businesses being incapable of assuming responsibility/liability for things like this because their overall public benefit is more important) is simply Samaritan avoiding responsibility for the dynamics of degradation and control inherent in the 12-step ‘rehabilitation’ process which is not coincidental but ‘part of the job’ at Samaritan Counseling. This article does mention the possibility that *unintentional* mishandling of transference (such as in a supervised scheme of emotional extortion to coerce 12-step treatment) in carrying out the demands of the employer would not absolve the employer of responsibility in the same way.

I would also add that these cases could be handled better (mishandling a mishandled transference complaint, especially in the manner 12-step programs do, is often more damaging than the sexual incident itself) and this piece does seem to say that negligence regarding these imposed dynamics would be a better argument.

“In congregational life, too often clergy become the scapegoat for their congregations.” – David Olsen and Nancy Devor, Saying No To Say Yes, 2015