What happens when a co-worker with a history of violence assaults someone at work? If the employer knew of the history, the employer could be liable for failing to prevent the attack. The employer certainly shouldn’t blame the victim.
In our last blog post, we discussed how the law regards workplace violence, which often begins with sexual harassment and can end in threats, verbal abuse, physical harm or even homicide.
We also discussed how employers are legally obligated to take reasonable steps to stop or prevent workplace violence. When they don’t, not only can they face fines and penalties, but they could also be held liable for any damage or injuries that result.
An example of workplace violence
Unfortunately, some employers fail to act even when they are put on notice about a potentially violent employee.
The Law Office of Twila S. White is currently involved in a case where the City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services was repeatedly notified that one of its animal care technicians at the South Los Angeles Animal Shelter was violent toward both animals and humans and was engaging in severe and pervasive sexual harassment. Nevertheless, we allege, the department took no effective action to stop the harassment or to prevent violence.
When the technician physically attacked a co-worker without provocation, the department not only failed to take immediate corrective action, it even blamed and retaliated against the victim, our client. They accused the female victim of allegedly making the first contact even though the male harassing technician got into her face and pinned her against a wall with his body.
Although she had only defended herself in a life-threatening situation, by trying to free herself from his body hold, the department cited her for engaging in a confrontation and suspended her. When she insisted upon her innocence, the department threatened her with additional punishment and retaliation, including suspension and a formal write-up, among other things. The harassing technician was allowed to eventually resign, as opposed to being terminated. Thus, the city allowed the harassing technician to leave with grace through resignation, as opposed to the correct penalty that his actions warranted through physically attacking the female coworker.
In this case, we allege that the animal care technician who attacked our client was well known to the department. Supervisors knew of his threatening behavior and failed to take the proper action. He had been harassing women for quite some time and engaged in threatening behavior.
Several co-workers have signed affidavits concerning his behavior. Some of the co-workers had notified the department and made complaints about his behavior, examples of which included:
- Making gender-based slurs and implying that he could beat up certain female co-workers
- Stalking a co-worker with whom he had a romantic relationship
- Pulling a knife and threatening a female employee at work
- Describing a road rage incident in which he forced a car off the road and threatened the driver with a gun
- Carrying bear mace on his body and in his car to engage in violence
- Using excessive force on and severely mistreating animals under his care on numerous occasions — he was barred from assisting the shelter’s medical staff
Yet, despite our client having no disciplinary history of her own related to violence and was a good employee, the department acted as if her assault was a brawl in which each party was equally responsible. Many eyewitnesses and the city’s own investigator’s statements show otherwise. When she insisted upon her innocence, she suffered retaliation.
What you can do
If you have questions about workplace violence, contact an attorney who is experienced in this area of the law.