Sanford Heisler Sharp Files Lawsuit Against the United States for Negligence Leading to the Alleged Sexual Assault of a Civilian Mariner by The Captain Aboard a U.S. Navy Vessel

SOMERSET COUNTY, N.J., Nov. 29, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Sanford Heisler Sharp and Maritime Legal Solutions today filed a complaint in federal court in New Jersey against the United States. The complaint alleges that Elsie E. 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 and that the United States failed to adequately protect her from sexual assault.

Ms. Dominguez is represented in the matter by Sanford Heisler Sharp partners, Christine Dunn (D.C. Office) and Carolin Guentert (New York Office), Co-Chairs of the Sexual Violence, Title IX and Victims’ Rights Practice Group; Frank Xu, an associate; and Shannon Henris, a litigation fellow, both in the D.C. Office. Ms. Dominguez is also represented by J. Ryan Melogy of the New York law firm Maritime Legal Solutions, PLLC.

The complaint alleges that Ms. Dominguez left the ship while off duty on the evening of December 18, 2021, and that, while she was ashore, someone slipped a drug into her drink, causing her to black out. The complaint further alleges that Ms. Dominguez was so incapacitated from the drug that she had to be carried back onto the ship by fellow crew members and taken to her stateroom. The complaint also alleges that Ms. Dominguez awoke in the early morning of December 19, 2021, to find the Captain of the ship raping her as she lay in her bed unconscious.

According to the complaint, the Captain gained entry to Ms. Dominguez’s room, while she was unconscious, by using a master key code. The complaint alleges that the United States was negligent in allowing him unrestricted access to her room, without adequate safeguards in place. Following the assault, Ms. Dominguez felt so unsafe that she requested a deadbolt lock be installed on the inside of her stateroom door. The complaint further alleges that the cameras in the passageways leading to Ms. Dominguez’s room, which could have deterred the Captain from entering her stateroom that night, had been broken for over a year at the time of the sexual assault and the United States was negligent in not repairing them.

After the rape, when Ms. Dominguez sought help from her superiors and the MSC Sexual Assault Prevention and Response helpline, she alleges that she was discouraged from reporting, dissuaded from seeking medical testing, denied access to confidential reporting, and had her job threatened. The complaint also alleges that the United States was negligent in failing to have adequate sexual assault prevention training and reporting systems on the ship.

According to the complaint, high ranking members of MSC and the Navy were aware of the Captain’s alleged habitual alcohol abuse and angry, drunken outbursts directed at crewmembers. Despite his alleged history of erratic behavior, the United States allowed him to remain in charge of the USNS Carson City and its crew.

“What happened to Ms. Dominguez was both foreseeable and preventable by the United States and its agents,” Dunn said. “Ms. Dominguez has accomplished so much in a male-dominated career, but she has been greatly harmed by the failure of the United States to protect her while serving her country. This was the Captain of a United States Navy ship and she thought she would be safe, but the United States failed her.”

“Ms. Dominguez and other civilian mariners who live aboard U.S. government vessels should not have to live in fear. The United States owes a duty to protect crewmembers aboard its vessels, and it is failing to live up to that duty,” Melogy said. “Ms. Dominguez is courageously coming forward, at great personal and professional risk to herself, to protect others from similarly traumatic experiences.”

The Lawsuit

The complaint asserts that the United States’ conduct violates the Jones Act because Ms. Dominguez’s injuries were directly caused by the United States’ negligence and failure to provide a seaworthy vessel. The United States has waived sovereign immunity under the Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act. The complaint requests a jury trial.

About Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP is a national public interest class-action litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Diego, Nashville, and Baltimore. Sanford Heisler Sharp focuses on employment discrimination, Title IX, wage and hour, whistleblower, criminal/sexual violence, and financial services matters. The firm has recovered over $1 billion for its clients through many verdicts and settlements. The National Law Journal recognized Sanford Heisler Sharp as 2021 Employment Rights Firm of the Year, 2021 Human Rights Firm of the Year, and 2022 Civil Rights Firm of the Year.

For the latest news about Sanford Heisler Sharp, visit the firm’s newsroom or follow the firm on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter.

If you have potential legal claims and are seeking counsel, please call 619-577-4253 or email Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp would like to have the opportunity to help you.

About Maritime Legal Solutions, PLLC

Maritime Legal Solutions, PLLC is a maritime law firm focused on the representation of mariners who have been the victims of shipboard harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of maritime abuse. If you need help reporting maritime abuse to the U.S. Coast Guard or federal law enforcement, please contact Ryan Melogy by emailing, calling 347-562-9119, or visiting for a complimentary consultation.

For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos, at 201-788-0142 or