By Bill Wright
There are limits to self-help, even if you believe you have been subjected to harassment. In Gaff v. St. Mary’s Regional Med. Center, No. 12-6064 (10th Cir. December 19, 2012) (unpublished), the employer discharged a supervisor for her reaction to an employee’s joke. The joke was in poor taste: the employee “joked” that the supervisor’s husband was leaving her for another woman. In times past, the same employee had told her: “All you need is a good f[—].” But the supervisor’s response to the “joke” this day was to say that she owned a gun, knew how to use it, and that the employee’s comment was “the kind of joke that can get someone shot.” The employer fired the supervisor and she sued. The Court ruled that – with just these two comments and other innocuous conversations – the supervisor cannot have had a reasonable belief that the employee was harassing her. More to the point, the only evidence in the case showed that the supervisor’s threat was the real and only reason for the discharge decision.
These days, everyone has good reason to be leery of threats in the workplace. The courts seem to support employers who take those threats seriously.