Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

May 06, 2019

Termination was for threats, not age discrimination

Harassment & DiscriminationTermination & Resignation 

A drug store pharmacist who had been employed by a company for 34 years was terminated for threatening to use a gun at work, not because of his age or for reporting discrepancies in the store’s drug inventory, ruled a federal district court in California. A coworker reported to HR that the pharmacist had entered his office, closed the door, and said, “If you are ever in this office and you hear the sound of a metal slide going back (as he was motioning to load an assault rifle), that’s your cue to get out of the backdoor over there within 5-10 seconds!” An investigation ensued. When confronted by the company, the employee said that he was talking about shooting himself, not coworkers. In his written statement, he wrote “I jokingly stated that if he [the coworker] heard a click or bang in my office not to call 911 and do not resuscitate me stating ‘good bye cruel world’.” He claimed those comments were “just poking fun” at himself.

Termination: Age Discrimination—or Workplace Violence?

After being fired for threatening acts of violence in the workplace, the employee alleged this was merely a ploy to fire him because of his age and having reported discrepancies in the company’s drug inventory. The court disagreed. In making the decision to terminate, the Senior Director of HR had no knowledge of any discrimination against the employee; in fact, the employee had never reported any such discrimination nor any concerns of drug inventory discrepancies to HR, so neither factor was considered. In reality, the decision to terminate was based on the employee’s own admission to making comments that violated the company’s workplace violence policy. The court ruled in favor of the company on all of the employee’s claims of discrimination and retaliation (Tenerelli v. Rite Aid Corp., ED Cal, April 2019).

Tips for Employers

Zero Tolerance Policy for Violent or Threatening Behavior

Implement a zero tolerance policy for any violent or threatening behavior and encourage employees to immediately report any conduct that may be considered as such. Take action and immediately investigate all reports of this nature.

If you are a Vigilant member, contact your Vigilant employment attorney and see our Legal Guide, Minimizing Workplace Violence. For questions about age discrimination, be sure to review our complimentary legal guide, Age Discrimination and Employment.

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This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.