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COA upholds workplace restraining order

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The Indiana Court of Appeals today analyzed for the first time the legal parameters required to affirm an order issued to protect a person under the Workplace Violence Restraining Order Act. The appellate court turned to the Indiana Civil Protection Order Act to provide context for analyzing cases under the WVROA.

In Teresa Torres v. Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, No. 49A04-0812-CV-719, the Family and Social Services Administration petitioned for a workplace violence restraining order against Teresa Torres on behalf of employee Carol Baker as a result of Torres' outburst during an Indiana Council on Independent Living meeting. Baker serves as assistant director of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, provides administrative support to ICOIL, and is required to attend ICOIL meetings. Torres, director of an independent living center in Northwestern Indiana, has attended ICOIL meetings since the 1990s and was appointed an ICOIL member in 2005 by Gov. Mitch Daniels. She uses an assisted-listening device during the meetings because she has a moderate hearing loss.

Torres has a history of loud outbursts during these meetings; she has also overturned a chair. As a result of her behavior, Capitol Police have had to intervene.

At a meeting in April 2008, Torres' listening device wasn't working, and she became angry. She threw it at the table where ICOIL members were seated; she paced around the room with clenched fists and screamed that she hoped everyone died. She eventually charged at Baker and screamed at her, but she never physically touched her. Capitol Police were called to the meeting.

FSSA filed the petition for restraining order against Torres because Baker was concerned about her safety because she was required to attend the meetings; she feared Torres may harm her while following her to work or to her home. The trial court granted the restraining order, which is set to expire Aug. 1, 2009.

The WVROA allows an employer to seek a temporary restraining order on behalf of an employee if the employee has suffered unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence from the person and the unlawful violence happened at the employee's place of work.

Turning to the Indiana Civil Protection Order Act, the appellate court used this act to analyze the legal parameters required to affirm an order that is issued in favor of a protected person under the WVROA.

Torres argued the restraining order should be set aside because there was no evidence showing her actions would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress and caused the victim emotional distress. However, the evidence shows one ICOIL member left the meeting during the outburst because she felt unsafe, wrote Chief Judge John Baker. Capitol Police have been called numerous times because of Torres' behavior. It was reasonable for the trial court to conclude a reasonable person attending the meeting would have suffered emotional distress because of Torres' actions.

In addition, Baker did suffer emotional distress - she couldn't eat before the meetings, feared Torres' unpredictable behavior, and felt drained after the meetings. She also worried Torres' may follow her to her office or home.

"In our view, the purpose of the WVRA, CPOA, and the relevant criminal laws, is to prohibit actions and behavior that cross the lines of civility and safety in the workplace, at home, and in the community. As a result, we can only conclude that the FSSA proved that Torres engaged in unlawful credible threats of violence against Baker," wrote the chief judge in affirming the trial court.

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