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Court Fired Worker Must Prove Danger Met Standard

March 11, 2009
Related Topics: Workplace Violence, Safety and Workplace Violence, Policies and Procedures, Latest News
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An employee who was fired after he said he had complained about an unsafe working environment must meet an objective standard of alleged danger, a federal district court said.

The March 6 decision by the federal district court in Hartford, Connecticut, in Cesar Ferrer v. T.L. Cannon Management Corp. involved a worker who claimed he was discharged for complaining about his employer’s alleged violation of public policy requiring employers to provide a reasonably safe workplace.

Ferrer said he was discharged after telling his manager that a co-worker had thrown a punch at him and missed. He also said the co-worker had assaulted another employee about a year earlier.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a 1997 decision that employers must “exercise reasonable care” to provide a “reasonably safe place in which to work,” according to the opinion. However, the “plaintiff cannot recover unless he can carry the burden of proving that the danger he faced met the objective standard enunciated” in that decision.

“This stringent standard is not satisfied by plaintiff’s bare allegations that the co-worker who unsuccessfully tried to punch him had assaulted someone else about a year earlier,” said the court.

The plaintiff was given three weeks to amend his complaint to show that the co-worker “had a known propensity for violence and specifically threatened him with serious bodily harm.”

Commenting on the decision, Daniel A. Schwartz, of Pullman & Comley in Hartford, said the court is saying in its decision that simply complaining “you believe a co-worker is going to commit violence, without something a little more tangible” is “not going to be enough.”

T.L. Cannon’s attorney, Glenn Duhl, of Siegel O’Connor O’Donnell & Beck in Hartford, said Ferrer was discharged after witnesses disputed his version of the incident, the company learned he had a record of prior disciplinary warnings and he refused to go back to work at the same shift as his co-worker.

But Ferrer’s attorney, Steve Jacobs of Jacobs, Jacobs & Shannon, said he believes Ferrer was discharged in retaliation for complaining about an unsafe workplace.

The judge seemed to think that to successfully plead his case, the plaintiff had to have suffered “serious bodily injury,” and to have alleged the assailant “had a propensity to commit violent actions in the workplace. I’m not sure that that’s necessarily the law,” he said.
 
Jacobs said no decision has been made as to whether he will plead the case again.

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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