Workplace threat injunction deemed invalid

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

An employee’s reported threat to blow his boss’s head off resulted in an injunction barring him from the workplace, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed recently in a case that highlighted conflicting statutes aimed at preventing violence on the job.

A 2002 statute, the Workplace Violence Restraining Order Act, was used to secure an injunction against an employee who was accused of communicating a threat against his supervisor to someone in the company’s human resources employee assistance program.

But in reversing, the appeals panel found that a Depression-era statute enacted in response to employer-sponsored violence against striking workers prevents injunctions under the 2002 law if the threat arises from a labor dispute.

dau-schmidt Dau-Schmidt

“The problem here was (the company) didn’t proceed under the right statute,” said Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a nationally recognized authority in labor law.

The 1930s-era law, the Anti-Injunction Act, I.C. 22-6-1, requires a greater level of scrutiny before a court may order someone barred from a workplace. Parties must be allowed a hearing, for instance, and a court must make findings of fact before an injunction can be issued under this Act. A bond against wrongful injunction also may be required.

Under the 2002 statute, I.C. 34-26-6, a court may issue a temporary restraining order in response to workplace violence or the credible threat of workplace violence and may follow up by issuing an injunction after a hearing, as was done in this case.

Laurie Martin, a partner and employment attorney at Hoover Hull LLP in Indianapolis, said “there are still a lot of situations that aren’t implicated at all by the opinion, where the Workplace Violence Restraining Order Act might apply.”

Gerald Lutkus, an attorney at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in South Bend, said under federal law, the National Labor Relations Board has carved out exceptions for certain types of speech that lose the protection of law. “Threats are one of those,” he said.

Neither Martin nor Lutkus were involved in this case.

Threats of violence were one of the things the Workplace Violence Restraining Order Act was designed to deal with, Lutkus contends. “That’s the dilemma the decision presents.”

Different times

Dau-Schmidt said the AIA stemmed from an era when labor unions or workers often didn’t get an opportunity to respond to an employer’s request for injunctions, or when companies persuaded courts they had no means to serve notice on crowds of picketing laborers.

The result was workers who violated injunctions – often unknowingly – could be jailed. Some companies “hired Pinkertons to beat these people up,” Dau-Schmidt said.

Statutes in Indiana and virtually all other states were patterned after the federal Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 that limited the ability of courts to issue injunctions against workers. Yet the AIA, also known as Indiana’s “little Norris-LaGuardia Act” expressly allows for injunctions for violence or threats of violence, Dau-Schmidt said.

“They wrote the ‘little Norris-LaGuardia Act’ very broadly to cover almost every conceivable situation” arising from workplace disputes, he said. “It’s pretty demanding language, because the system was being abused.”

The Court of Appeals on July 11 decided A.H. v. C.E.G. on behalf of G.S., 49A05-1310-PO-525, reversing the injunction issued by Marion Superior Judge Gary L. Miller. The appeals court in a footnote observed that A.H. requested, and the motions panel granted, his request to prohibit public access to filings, so initials were used to protect the privacy of parties.

Attorneys who represented parties on both sides of the dispute declined to comment about the case due to the court’s order.

martin Martin

C.E.G. is Citizens Energy Group. Spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said the company does not plan to seek an appeal of the Court of Appeals ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court.

What’s a labor dispute?

The case turned on a determination of whether the injunction was issued as a result of a labor dispute, which the court noted is expressly prohibited by the Workplace Violence Restraining Order Act. “Therefore, if the instant case involves or grows out of a labor dispute as defined by the AIA, we must conclude that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to grant relief pursuant to the WVROA,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel.

The appeals court held that this was a labor dispute because it met the criteria under the AIA of a dispute between an employer and employee or between two or more employees.

According to the case record, A.H. sustained an unspecified injury at work. Later the same day, his supervisor called to ask him about working the next day, a Saturday. The supervisor said he thought A.H. was loud and disrespectful, though A.H. said he would work at 6 a.m. but not 4 a.m.

As conflicts between the worker and supervisor escalated, A.H. complained he was being unfairly treated in comparison to other workers. He also sought a second opinion on his injury from a physician other than the company doctor his supervisor suggested, Crone wrote.

A.H. spoke to a therapist in the company’s employee assistance program who relayed to the supervisor that he was talking about blowing the supervisor’s head off. A.H., though, testified that he told the therapist he had a dream that he shot his boss.

Attorneys representing Citizens Energy Group argued the WVROA provides a remedy and that the AIA was meant to apply to organized labor activities – a position the appeals panel rejected.

“C.E.G. cites no cases that limit the application of the AIA in the manner it advances,” Crone wrote. “We conclude that a ‘labor dispute’ for purpose of the AIA is not confined to situations involving a union.”

Law’s limits

Martin said employers should be thinking from a policy perspective about internal procedures to provide remedies such as suspensions when threats arise, but the WVROA still can be a useful tool, particularly when an employee is threatened by someone who isn’t a co-worker.

“It gets tricky then in this co-worker to co-worker context,” Martin said. “There is prior authority out there that the statute does apply if the dispute is found to be purely personal in nature.

“It is just a fact-intensive inquiry when it gets into the inquiry of what arises out of a labor dispute,” she said.

Martin said the panel in A.H. differed from some prior appellate panel rulings.

“One difference I think between some other panels’ opinions and this one is whether the focus of the inquiry should be on the conduct that led to the threat … or the threat itself,” she said.

But Martin said the court made clear the plain meaning of the Anti-Injunction Act and other statutes traditionally viewed as those applicable to organized labor. “They can and do apply in non-union workplaces,” she said.•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.