ENNIS, Texas (CBSFW.COM) – An Ennis mother says her daughter was sexually assaulted at a longtime, popular North Texas fair and she does not believe the festival did enough to protect its young workers.
“It just breaks my heart. I hurt for her. I know she’ll never be the same again.” Three years later, Kelly Brignon says her daughter is in therapy and recovering, but their battle is far from over.
“It was a place I felt safe,” says now 17-year-old Paige Brignon. She grew up going to the Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie. “I’ve wanted to work there a long time.”
And in 2018, when she was 14, that happened. She got a job in the souvenir shop.
But she says what happened weeks later has changed her life forever. “I was closing the shop and it was just him and me…”
Court documents state a 28-year-old coworker “locked the door, grabbed her by the throat and violently pushed her…”
Paige Brignon says, “I was scared. …I didn’t know what to do.” She tells the I-Team she was sexually assaulted.
A former employee, then 28-year-old David James Ford, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault of a child.
Brignon says he attacked her, not once, but twice, at the festival.
Brignon’s parents have spent the past several months protesting the popular event. In court documents, they state the organizers never did a background check on Ford, were “negligent” in hiring him, failed to “supervise employees” and did not “provide security.”
“When we spoke out, people were furious. They don’t want to hold (the festival) responsible,” Kelly Brignon says. “There is too much money, history, advertisement, revenue…”
The Brignons also learned their daughter does not appear to be alone.
Ellis County records show the sheriff department was called to the festival three times since 2013 by victims claiming to be assaulted by employees.
The county confirms, in 2018, David Joshua Danforth pled guilty to four counts of aggravated sexual assault also at the festival also involving a 14-year-old. He received a 30-year prison sentence.
“It happens once, call it a fluke…But when it happens over and over again and you don’t change your hiring practices, there is a problem, and you don’t care about employees.” The teen’s mom says neither she nor her daughter have heard from anyone at Scarborough since the incident. “There’s been no accountability. It’s business as usual.”
They say, to get accountability, they are not only battling Scarborough, but also Texas law.
“Scarborough Faire’s carrier deemed it as a worker’s comp claims.” Kelly Brignon cannot understand why this happened. “Sexual assault is a crime. It’s not here for employers to hide behind.”
She says Scarborough and its insurance provider classified the sexual assault as a compensable workplace injury barring it from further responsibility. Because of that, she says the family’s civil suit is stalled in court waiting for a judge to decide if it can move forward
Paige Brignon says the pain and this battle is never-ending. “It’s going to stay with me… No kid deserves to go through this. I shouldn’t have had to grow up at age 14.”
Here’s what the CBS 11 I-Team learned about the law:
Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation Answers
1) Does workers’ compensation cover sexual assault?
Depending on the facts of that claim, a sexual assault can be covered under workers’ compensation. If an injury is covered under workers’ compensation, it is referred to as “compensable.” For a sexual assault to be compensable, the facts must show that the assault was directed at the victim in his or her capacity as an employee or because of the employment.
2) Are criminal acts covered under workers’ compensation claims?
Injuries resulting from criminal acts of third parties can be covered under workers’ compensation. An example of this could be a store robbery where a clerk is assaulted and injured. This is a criminal act committed by a third party, and the clerk’s injuries would be compensable.
3) If a workers’ compensation claim is filed is there an instance that you can also file a civil lawsuit?
There may be situations where a civil lawsuit can be filed because of a work-related injury. Some examples include:
1. If an employer chooses not to provide workers’ compensation insurance for its employees, then the employee can sue the employer.
2. If an employer retaliates against an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim, then the employee can sue the employer.
3. If a work injury was caused by a third party, then the employee can sue the third party (not the employer). However, before the employee recovers any money from this type of lawsuit, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier must be reimbursed for all the benefits it paid to the employee.
The law prohibits an employee from suing an employer with workers’ compensation coverage. The only exception to this is if the work-related injury: 1) results in the death of the employee, and 2) was caused by either an intentional act of the employer or the gross negligence of the employer. Only under that circumstance can beneficiaries of an employee file a lawsuit for the additional exemplary damages. There are situations where, even if the injury is not compensable, the employee still cannot file a lawsuit against the employer.
More Information from the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation coverage in Texas is voluntary. To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, the employer must have workers’ compensation insurance, and the employee must have been injured or contracted an occupational disease as a result of their employment. Whether a workers’ compensation claim is compensable or not is a case-by-case determination by the insurance carrier.
If the employee disagrees with the insurance carrier’s decision, they have the right to dispute a denial or other issues concerning their workers’ compensation claim to DWC. DWC has an administrative dispute resolution process for this purpose. We encourage anyone who has been injured at work to contact us with questions about their workers’ compensation claim or how to report a workers’ compensation claim. They can call us at 1-800-252-7031 for help at any point during their claim.
Injured employees can go to our website for more resources like videos on how to navigate their claim (Your Guide to Workers’ Comp), or FAQs about workers’ compensation. All of these resources are offered in both English and Spanish.
Scarborough Renaissance Festival response
Scarborough Renaissance Festival® does everything in its power to ensure the safety of all of our employees, participants and patrons and to conduct the safest events possible.
Scarborough Renaissance Festival® does not employ underage workers. Scarborough Renaissance Festival® does hire young people in accordance with the State of Texas’ employment laws and adheres to all guidelines regarding their work hours and supervision.
Scarborough Renaissance Festival® has a zero tolerance policy for any type of inappropriate behavior or harassment. If there is ever inappropriate or suspected unlawful behavior by any of our employees, participants, or patrons, we cooperate fully with local authorities to immediately address such matters.
It is our understanding that the Paige Brignon matter was filed as a Worker’s Compensation claim by Ms. Brignon. Scarborough Renaissance Festival® does not comment on any type of litigation.