Breaking News: Threatening to Shoot Supervisor’s Children is Grounds for Discharge

Sometimes I wonder why a lawyer decides to take a case.  Other times I wonder why a lawyer decides to appeal a case he never should have taken. And then there are times where I ask myself both those questions in the same case. This week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit  decided a disability discrimination claim that falls squarely within the latter category. Curley v. City of N. Las Vegas, No. 12-16228 (12/2/14).

The case arose when Michael Curley, a long-time public works employee of the City of North Las Vegas, got into an altercation with a co-worker.  The altercation arose shortly after Curley filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that he had been denied requested accommodations for a hearing impairment.  The City conducted an investigation into the events that led to the altercation.  Here is how the Ninth Circuit described the results of the investigation:

As part of the investigation, the Human Resources Department interviewed City employees and asked about their interactions with Curley. The interviews revealed that Curley had repeatedly threatened his coworkers and their families. For example, he threatened to put a bomb under a car, insinuated that he had mafia connections, and talked about giving a “blanket party”—which would involve throwing a blanket over a person’s head and beating him.  One coworker reported that Curley threatened to kick his teeth out if the coworker did not join a union. On another occasion, Curley threatened to shoot his supervisor’s children in the kneecaps.

The interviews also revealed details about Curley’s work habits. Multiple coworkers said that Curley regularly conducted personal business while at work, sometimes spending up to three hours on his cell phone. It also appears that Curley was operating an ADA consulting business. Many of the calls he made during work were about the business, and coworkers saw him approach disabled individuals to discuss potential lawsuits.

 

Not surprisingly, the City decided that this behavior was grounds for termination.  Curley alleged that the termination violated the ADA because he had completed a fitness for duty evaluation, and had been found not to be a threat to himself or others.  The court rejected his argument, finding that he was fired for having made past threats and engaged in past misconduct, not because  the City believed he may pose a future threat.

Curley also claimed his termination was retaliatory.  He argued that he has been a disruptive employee for years, making insensitive remarks to co-workers and damaging City property. Since the City had tolerated this in the past, he argued that the reasons offered for his termination were pretextual. The Court rejected this argument, finding that the City was not aware of the extent of his misconduct until it conducted the investigation.

In the end, the undisputed facts showed that Curley was a bad employee who did bad things to his coworkers and spent a large part of his workday engaged in personal matters. Most of the time, that kind of behavior is going to get you fired, and a court is not going to overturn the termination.

 

 

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