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Posing a Threat Is Enough to Warrant Firing

May 25, 2006
Related Topics: Featured Article, Legal
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Michael Sista, a manager at investment bank CDC, was diagnosed with major depression. He was heard at work telling a subordinate, with whom he was having performance difficulties, that he would "beat him up ... on the details" of an investment trade. Upon learning of the comment, CDC demoted Sista, who later rejected CDC’s suggestion that he take a leave of absence.

    During a subsequent meeting with his supervisor, Sista became agitated, cursed and shouted. He told his supervisor, "I swear to Christ I’m comin’ for you." At that point, CDC, which had said it was "prepared to work with" him, put Sista on paid leave. Sista tried to commit suicide. CDC refused to allow Sista to return to work unless he apologized or recanted his threat. When Sista refused, he was fired.

    Sista sued CDC, arguing that he had been fired because of his disability, i.e., major depression. The trial court saw it another way. When Sista made a verbal threat to his supervisor, that was enough to establish a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for Sista’s discharge. Sista was unable to show that CDC’s stated reason for discharging him was a pretext for discrimination based on his disability. Upon appeal, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in New York City agreed. Sista v. CDC IXIS N. Am. Inc., 2nd Cir., No. 05-1506-CV(L) (4/14/06).

    Impact: Employers should be aware that employees who make threats in the workplace—regardless of their depression or physical or other mental ailments—may be disciplined or discharged. Employers, of course, cannot discriminate between disabled and nondisabled employees who make similar threats.

Workforce Management, May 22, 2006, p. 11 --Subscribe Now!

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