DENVER (AP) — A federal appeals court panel has found that a Denver city social worker can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of a boy when she recommended that he be placed in his father's custody despite knowing that the father was a convicted sex offender.
The boy was later physically and sexually abused by his father.
Monday's decision by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected social worker Kelcey Patton's claim that, as a city employee, she is protected by governmental immunity.
An attorney for the boy, who is now an adult, said Tuesday the decision allows the victim to seek damages in a lower court from both the worker and the city.
"He was an incredibly vulnerable at-risk child with a borderline IQ when this happened. It made him such an easy target for the abuse, and he needs lifetime care in a residential therapeutic facility," said attorney Jordan Factor.
The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual abuse, and also is not identifying the father to protect the son's identity.
The three-judge panel rejected a motion to dismiss the case by Patton and the Denver Department of Health and Human Services, Patton's employer.
Telephone calls for comment to Patton's attorney and to the department were not immediately returned.
In 2010, the boy, then 14 years old, was taken by the department from his mother's home because of neglect. Later that year, Patton recommended that he be placed in the custody of the father — but did not report that the father had been convicted of attempted sexual assault of a minor and had his probation revoked because was not complying with an offender treatment program.
In 2011, Patton recommended that the boy remain with his father despite knowing that the boy had reported that his father had hit him with a wooden mop handle. School officials had also reported that he was complaining of body aches and was acting fearfully around his father.
Patton has testified that she did not raise objections to the move because she feared being fired by supervisors who insisted on the transfer. The supervisors have denied her claim.
The boy was removed from his father's custody in September 2011 after the department learned the boy had had sexual contact with a half brother. The department ultimately determined the father sexually and physically assaulted the boy, according to court documents.
Factor said Monday's ruling allows him to seek damages from Patton in a federal court suit and that, if successful, the city department would be liable.