Barclays Plc won a Supreme Court ruling over allegations that a doctor sexually assaulted patients while conducting physicals for the bank more than 30 years ago.
The court said Barclays wasn’t financially liable for the assaults, which took place from the 1960s to 1980s. The court ruled Wednesday that Gordon Bates was a contractor with limited contact with the bank.
The group of 126 people who filed the initial lawsuit said Bates assaulted them during examinations of employees and prospective employees. Bates died in 2009.
“Nothing in this judgment seeks to deny or downplay the very serious harm which sexual abuse of the sort alleged against Dr. Bates can do,” Judge Brenda Hale said in the ruling Wednesday, which was read out by another member of the court. “But the relationship between Dr. Bates and the bank was not such that the Bank should be made to pay for it.”
The suit had drawn one of the world’s top banks into a reckoning over sexual abuse and who should pay for it. Barclays has defended itself by saying it isn’t responsible for what the doctor might have done because he wasn’t an employee. Lower courts have consistently sided with the victims.
It was one of two rulings Wednesday — the other involved a data leak at Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc — that set a precedent for the vicarious responsibility corporations have for those who work for them.
Barclays said that it sympathized with the victims and said it was concerned to learn of the allegations.
“We take the welfare of all employees, including former employees, very seriously,” Barclays said in a statement.
It’s a significant ruling for the plaintiffs, most of whom were women and some as young as 15 years old when the assaults took place. One of them, James (whose name is a pseudonym to protect his identity), was 16 when he visited Bates for a medical exam in 1976. He went on to work at the bank for more than three decades.
“The enormity of my disappointment cannot be put into words,” he said in an email. “British ‘justice’ has let a significant number of people down today, it is truly April Fool’s Day.”
Richard Scorer, a lawyer who represents a number of the victims, said the ruling was “regrettable.”
“Barclays has subjected Bates’ victims to a long legal battle when the only reason our clients were assaulted by Bates was because they attended this medical as a requirement of employment,” Scorer said in an email.
Barclays won permission to appeal to the Supreme Court last year, after losing its case at a lower court.
The court said in a separate ruling that Morrisons isn’t liable for a data breach by a disgruntled employee who leaked personal details of thousands of staff members online.
Vicarious liability means that a person who has done no wrong has to pay damages for the wrong done by someone else.
Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
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