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Ex-employee wins $100K verdict against chiropractor

chiropractor_mainA Roanoke County jury this month awarded $100,000 to a one-time office staffer who complained she was sexually assaulted by her chiropractor boss.

The jury accepted the ex-employee’s version of events in a courtroom credibility contest with chiropractor Joshua D. Rhodes.

The staffer said that Rhodes grabbed her breasts, tugged at her clothes and tried to push her legs apart in various encounters at the chiropractor’s office. Rhodes denied the allegations. His lawyer says he is considering an appeal.

It was the second court hearing for the woman’s allegations. She filed criminal charges, but Rhodes was acquitted in criminal court. The civil lawsuit followed.

Lawyer letter questioned

One obstacle for the chiropractor was a purported “cease-and-desist” letter he presented to the staffer shortly after she quit. The employee reportedly had disclosed her assault allegations to another office employee. The letter demanded that she stop making defamatory statements.

Rhodes claimed the letter was prepared by an attorney, but the letter carried no letterhead or other indications that it was from a lawyer’s office, according to Terry N. Grimes of Roanoke, who represented the employee.

The letter was printed in landscape format, and the wording was straight from an online legal site, Grimes said.

Rhodes reportedly offered various explanations about the source of the letter, referencing the names of attorneys in the U.S. and Canada.

“None of these people exist,” Grimes said.

“It was obviously not written by a lawyer,” he said. “It was bizarre. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Grimes said, explaining that the letter eroded Rhodes’ credibility.

Shoes at issue

Even though the lawyers agreed the case was primarily one of “she said, he said,” Grimes said there was another bit of evidence that bolstered the credibility of the former staffer.

Grimes introduced evidence of a text message where Rhodes requested the staffer provide her shoe size. The staffer said Rhodes later presented her with a pair of stiletto-heel shoes and three pairs of stockings. Rhodes denied the alleged gift.

Grimes contended the text message supported his client’s high-heels and stockings testimony.

“We think that’s absurd,” said Cerid Lugar of Roanoke, who represented Rhodes in the civil trial.

She said the chiropractor’s office offered Foot Levelers orthotics and Rhodes signed up all his staff for the program. He was placing an order for new shoe inserts when he asked about shoe size, she explained.

The jury found in favor of the former staffer on Nov. 2 and awarded $25,000 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages.

Criminal charges dismissed

The civil jury trial followed a criminal trial where Rhodes prevailed. A general district judge dismissed an assault charge in 2015, court records showed.

Overcoming the criminal acquittal was “no problem whatsoever,” Grimes said. The burden of proof and the scope of discovery are different in criminal and civil cases, he pointed out.

“At the end of the day, a lot of these sexual assault cases are ‘he said, she said,’” Grimes said.

Complicating the civil case was a counterclaim filed by Rhodes against his accuser, alleging defamation and malicious prosecution.

The jurors resolved all those issues against Rhodes, Grimes said.

Rhodes had not yet decided whether to appeal the court’s judgment, Lugar said on Nov. 14.

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