In light of well-publicized events years ago, the U.S. Postal Service adopted a zero-tolerance violence policy. A recent case tested the limits of that policy. Mr. Jones had been dating and going to work with a fellow postal worker, Ms. Ortiz, for many years. Eventually they broke up, but continued to share rides to work. One day, she chose not to pick him up for work — which upset him. Depending on whose story you believe, Jones came to work upset and intended to let Ms. Ortiz know how upset he was. According to the court, “There was little doubt that Jones’s actions, as an initial matter, fell within the scope of the zero tolerance policy.”
The arbitrator in the underlying case explained, “Despite his denials of having cursed the involved co-worker, called her a bitch, or even to have forced her arm from his face, and/or pushed her against a mail container, his admissions of having entered her work area in a ‘confrontational posture’, having ‘scolded her’ and having ‘touched her’ in doing so, had been sufficient ‘misconduct’ for disciplined purposes.” However, the arbitrator felt that USPS went too far and that a 30-day suspension would have been enough — so Jones was reinstated with back pay.
Not satisfied, Jones then sued USPS, arguing that he was retaliated against under the ADA and Rehabilitation Acts. He alleged that his history of back problems caused him to be accommodated by doing a “torn mail handler” job and that the USPS was pressuring him to give unreasonable medical proof that it was necessary for him to stay in that position.
The court entertained the plaintiff’s argument that he was treated differently under similar circumstances than other employees simply because of his need for disability accommodation, and that his termination for the “violent act” was really a pretext. However, the court eventually ruled that since Jones could not isolate the disability discrimination as the sole reason for his termination that his ADA claim failed.
This case carries three lessons:
- It’s not a bad idea to have a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy.
- Any time you fail to follow any policy consistently, you’ll open yourself up to discrimination-type arguments.
- Because a plaintiff will always argue that the proffered reason for termination is pretext or retaliation you’d better have documentation to back it up.
To read the case, click here.