Navy Captain Sexual Assault Lawsuit

Case name: Elsie E. Dominguez v. United States of America

Case type: Sexual Violence, Title IX, and Victims’ Rights

Filed in: U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

Docket: Case No.: 3:23-cv-22724

Case Summary

On November 29, 2023, Sanford Heisler Sharp and Maritime Legal Solutions filed a lawsuit against the United States on behalf of Elsie Dominguez. The Complaint alleges that Ms. Dominguez, a civilian mariner working as the 1st Assistant Engineer aboard the USNS Carson City, a naval vessel operated by the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (“MSC”), was raped by the Captain of the vessel.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleges that the United States was negligent under the Jones Act and failed to provide a seaworthy vessel under general maritime law. The Complaint alleges that the United States, through its agents in the U.S. Navy and MSC, failed to protect Ms. Dominguez from sexual assault by her commanding officer; failed to provide safe working conditions aboard the vessel, in accordance with the Navy’s own stated rules for its ships; and failed to maintain an adequate system for reporting sexual assault.

Ms. Dominguez graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 2014 and rose to become a 1st Assistant Engineer, a rarity among female civilian mariners. According to the Complaint, on the evening of December 18, 2021, Ms. Dominguez was off duty when someone slipped a drug into her drink at a bar while she was ashore in Brindisi, Italy. Ms. Dominguez blacked out and was so incapacitated that she had to be carried back to her stateroom by fellow crew members. In the early morning hours, the Complaint alleges, Ms. Dominguez awoke to realize that the Captain of the ship had her arms pinned to the bed and was raping her.

The Complaint alleges that the Captain of the USNS Carson City was known by many onboard to be frequently intoxicated and prone to erratic outbursts. The night of the sexual assault, the Captain used a master key code to gain entry to Ms. Dominguez’s room while she was unconscious. According to the Complaint, the United States was negligent in allowing the Captain unfettered access to her room without adequate safeguards in place. The Complaint further alleges that the security cameras in the passageways leading to Ms. Dominguez’s room had been broken for over a year at the time of the assault and the United States was negligent in not repairing them.

The afternoon following the assault, Ms. Dominguez contacted a Civilian Victim Advocate with the MSC. According to the Complaint, Ms. Dominguez was told by the advocate that her only recourse as a civilian employee was to make an “unrestricted report” of the assault, during which she would be immediately removed from her position as 1st Assistant Engineer aboard the USNS Carson City and flown back to the United States, and would be unable to return to her position until the investigation was completed—in essence, losing her job for reporting a rape, the Complaint alleges. Fearing for her career, Ms. Dominguez felt that she had no choice but to remain onboard, where she continued to be trapped on a ship with her rapist, who still had unfettered access to her room, the Complaint alleges.

The Complaint requests a jury trial.