The Appellate Group

Burton v. Chen

Burton v. Chen, 2023 UT 14 (Pearce, A.C.J.)


Julie Burton filed suit against Alta Pain Physicians, Oscar Johnson, and Mr. Johnson’s supervising physician alleging that Mr. Johnson had sexually harassed and abused her at the clinic. She included under a theory of respondeat superior. The district court granted the clinic and supervising physician’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Ms. Burton argued that the Court should overturn precedent and adopt a foreseeability test for employer liability. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the district court, holding:

  • The district court did not err in concluding that the clinic and the supervisor could not be held liable for their employee’s actions because Mr. Johnson was hired with an expectation that he would not sexually harass patients.
  • Practice tip: To overturn existing precedent, appellee must meet the “heavy” burden of convincing the court that existing caselaw is unsound under Eldridge. Here, Ms. Burton’s argument that a foreseeability test should be enacted for respondeat superior claims failed to meaningfully engage with the Eldridge factors.

Read the full court opinion