I have written in the past about violence in the workplace and the problems associated with the presence of firearms in the workplace. Last week, in the case of M&J Materials v. Isbell, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found that summary judgment in favor of the employer was appropriate when a worker, who had suffered a compensable on the job injury, was discharged for pointing a gun at a manager. Thanks to one of my associates from my Huntsville office, Michael Pillsbury, for the summary of the case:
Stanford D. Isbell (Employee) injured his right wrist on June 15, 2006 while working for M & J Materials, Inc. (Employer). Sometime between April 2006 and June 2006, Employee, while still employed by Employer, brought a firearm to Employer's place of business. While showing the firearm to his co-workers (but not management), Employee aimed the firearm at a member of the management team while the manager's back was to Employee. The firearm did not discharge but this conduct made several co-workers uncomfortable and was soon reported to management who terminated Employee. Upon his termination, Employee filed suit against Employer for retaliatory discharge. Employer's motion for judgment as a matter of law was twice denied and Employer appealed. In order to prove a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge, the employee must show: 1) an employment relationship, 2) an on-the-job injury, 3) knowledge on the part of the employer of the on-the-job injury, and 4) subsequent termination of employment based solely upon the injury and the filing of a worker's compensation claim. The Court focused on the fourth element as Employee had provided evidence that the first three elements had been satisfied. Failure by the Employee to prove any of the four elements listed above was grounds for judgment as a matter of law in favor of Employer.
Employer's stated basis for Employee's termination was that Employee had brought a firearm into Employer's place of business. The Court noted that an employer's stated basis for a discharge is sufficient to defeat the fourth element listed above when the facts surrounding the stated basis are undisputed and the employee has not provided substantial evidence that a) the stated reason for termination has been applied in a discriminatory manner to employees who have filed worker's compensation claims, b) company policy does not support the termination, or c) the employer disavowed the stated reason or has otherwise admitted it is pretextual. The Court held that there was no dispute that Employee brought a firearm to Employer's place of business and aimed it at his supervisor. The Court further held that the Employer's policy against possession of weapons in Employer's place of employment was not being applied in a discriminatory manner against employees who had filed a worker's compensation claim. This matter was remanded to the trial court for proceedings consistent with the determinations of the Court of Civil Appeals.
Practice pointer. Any time a weapon, be it a gun, knife, baseball bat or other type of weapon, is brandished in the workplace, whether as a joke or as a threat, it must be taken seriously. There is no room for error in dealing with potentially violent employees. In the Isbell case, termination was the correct course of action to take to protect all of the employees.
UNPAID SUMMER INTERNS
There is a great deal of discussion in the legal community about the legalities of unpaid summer interns. It appears as if there will be a crackdown on employers who improperly use unpaid interns to take the place or supplement regular employees. I have heard on at least 4 occasions in the last 2 weeks about my own relatives and friends who are working in unpaid positions this summer in jobs for which they should be paid. Sirote & Permutt's next seminar is scheduled for Wednesday, May 19th from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It will be presented live in the Birmingham office, and will be shown via video conferencing my Huntsville and Mobile offices. if you are interested in attending, please feel free to contact me so we can plan accordingly.