Mariner alleging rape on sealift ship must apply for worker’s comp

Seven months after suing the United States for damages, a civilian engineer who says she was raped in her cabin by the civilian skipper of the Navy expeditionary fast transport Carson City in 2021 has been told she must instead petition the Department of Labor for worker’s compensation to resolve the matter.

Attorneys for the engineer, Elsie Dominguez, maintain that the case deserves a court remedy, saying rape always falls outside the scope of employee duties.

Dominguez’s lawsuit, filed in November, seeks back pay and compensatory damages in connection with her alleged rape.

In a June 4 ruling, Judge Edward S. Kiel granted a motion by the government to stay the case, citing a 1952 Supreme Court decision holding that the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) program, which offers payouts to government workers for job-related injuries and illnesses, is the proper avenue for the case.

The government motion argued that the only option for relief available to civilian mariners on government ships was via a FECA claim with the Department of Labor.

Dominguez’s attorneys objected to the government’s motion and called the idea that rape was a job-related risk “offensive” and “inconceivable.”

“It is really galling to even entertain the idea that being raped in her sleep is part of [Dominguez’s] performance of her duties,” Christine Dunn, one of the attorneys representing Dominguez, said in an interview. “But also, the remedies at the Department of Labor and a worker’s compensation hearing tend to be more limited. And we really believe this matter belongs in court.”

While remedies differ, FECA’s top payout for total disability is capped at two-thirds of an employee’s wage.

Dominguez’ team has until December to make a claim with the Department of Labor, which can grant a payout or determine that the alleged rape is not covered by worker’s comp and send the matter back to court.

However, the Department of Labor has already issued an advisory opinion indicating it would find the matter to fall under worker’s comp, Dunn said.

In light of this, she said, the team is still exploring what it can do.

Dominguez has yet to comment publicly on the case and her experiences.

“We feel a little bit helpless,” Dunn said. “We think she should be able to proceed in court – that this is not a worker’s comp issue. So we’re looking at all of our options.”

Dominguez’s lawsuit alleges the Carson City’s civilian captain, who is not named, used his master key to access Dominguez’s room and assault her in her bed after a night of drinking.

The suit alleges Dominguez was told by a civilian victim advocate that she’d couldn’t report the rape anonymously and would be removed from her job if she made a report. It also alleges she was not granted additional protections she asked for following the alleged rape, including a deadbolt for her room.

Both Dominguez and her alleged assailant remain employed by U.S. Military Sealift Command. The accused captain was placed on administrative leave and sent back to the U.S. after Dominguez’ report triggered investigations by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Coast Guard Investigative Service. Military Sealift Command spokesman Thomas Van Leunen told Navy Times this month that the man’s status had not changed and no charges had been filed.

Hope Hodge Seck is an award-winning investigative and enterprise reporter covering the U.S. military and national defense. The former managing editor of Military.com, her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Politico Magazine, USA Today and Popular Mechanics.

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