I have previously posted about workplace violence (here).
I came across a recent American Bar Association article entitled Hostile Environment Led to Rampage, Suit Claims that discusses a number of lawsuits arising out of a shooting that took place at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.. The ABA reports that:
... at least one plaintiffs legal team is seeking to hold the company and the employees union accountable in federal court on an unusual legal theory.
The article describes that theory as follows:
Because Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. knew about the threats and didnt take sufficient action, the plaintiffs contend, the company should be held vicariously liable for what could be termed the ultimate act of hostile-environment employment discrimination.
It seems that there was a discrimination claim filed by one of the workers killed in the tragedy against the gunman (a co-worker) and the local office of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission concluded that:
"Respondent was aware of the severity and the extent of the racially charged and hostile environment created by Mr. Williams, which included threats to kill African-American employees..."
The employer strongly disagrees with this letter and responds that other investigations reached different conclusions and that it had been cleared of all responsibility for the incident.
While this litigation is "highly unusual", who knows what the outcome will be.
One of the questions, then, is where the employer and the union knew or reasonably ought to have known that an employee posed a danger to other employees, what are their respective legal obligations?
It goes without saying that employers should thoroughly and completely investigate all complaints brought forward,treat them with the utmost seriousness and take appropriate action both during the investigation and thereafter. What "appropriate action" means depends on the situation but might include, among other things, contacting the authorities, removing the employee from the workplace pending the outcome of the investigation, requiring that the employee attend at an assessment or produce medical information, terminating his or her employment, transferring employees and hiring security personnel. What is clear is that "doing nothing" is not an option. Furthermore, the union has some responsibility in all of this and they would be well advised to step up to the plate.
We'll see where this unique claim (that was only filed on July 1, 2004) goes (if anywhere).