Trabulsy, summary judgment was entered in favor of the defense in a case by a plaintiff
who was allegedly battered by an employee of Publix while the plaintiff
was shopping at Publix. “An employer’s liability for an employee’s
intentional acts may arise when the acts are within the real or apparent
scope of employment.” “Conduct is within the scope of employment
if it occurs substantially within authorized time and space limits, and
it is activated at least in part by a purpose to serve the master. The
purpose of the employee’s act, rather than the method of performance
thereof, is said to be the important consideration.” In other words,
if an employee steps aside from his employment to accomplish some purpose
of his own, he is not acting within the scope of employment.
It was undisputed that the altercation occurred on Publix’s premises
while the employee was engaged in Publix’s business. Therefore,
the case turned on whether the employee’s purpose was to serve Publix.
The employee testified in deposition that the encounter was motivated
by a purpose to serve his employer. Publix asserted, nevertheless, that
the employee’s motive for pushing the plaintiff was personal –
self-defense from an attack by the plaintiff. The court noted that an
employer has an interest in protecting its employees from attack, at least
to the same extent as it has in protecting its merchandise and property.
The court further noted that several courts have held that battery by
an employee in protecting the employer’s property is within the
scope of employment. In this case, it was the business of the employer
that put the employee in harm’s way. Accordingly, the court reversed
the summary judgment.