Human Resources News & Insights

They did what? Surprise safety training goes horribly wrong, employer sued

Violent incidents at businesses across the U.S. have been making headlines lately, and it has a lot of employers considering how to prep their staffs for the unthinkable. But this is an example of how NOT to conduct training. 

In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, CT, in which a lone gunman fatally shot 20 children, administrators the Pine Eagle Elementary School in Halfway, OR, formed a safety committee tasked with formulating plans on how to respond in an emergency to an intruder.

One of the things the committee, which was made up of administrators and school board members, decided to do was surprise teachers with an active shooter drill.

The drill was held on an in-service day, so only teachers (no students) were in the building.

During the drill, a school board member and safety officer entered the school with masks and starter pistols. One of them lit firecrackers inside the building.

Bang! ‘You’re dead’

The school board member found teacher Linda McLean alone in her classroom. He surprised McLean by pointed his pistol directly at her, firing his gun and saying, “You’re dead” before running away. The gun made a loaded with .22 caliber blanks, so firing it made a loud noise and produced smoke, but no bullet was fired.

Safety committee members said the drill was meant to test the teaching staff’s “Run, Hide, Fight” responses.

McLean claims she thought she was going to die. Other teachers were alarmed as well. Two collided while running for the exit. One was injured. Another teacher wet herself.

McLean sued, claiming the incident caused her to suffer from severe emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorder. She said she became distraught, shaken and mentally, physically and emotionally ill.

She charged the school district with intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil assault, along with claims that her federal constitutional rights were violated and two state common law claims.

Employer facing damages

The school district fought to get her case dismissed on summary judgment. The court granted the district summary judgment on McLean’s federal rights claims, but it said McLean’s state law and emotional distress claims should go to trial. it also said McLean could seek punitive damages.

Now, the district is facing an expensive legal battle or settlement.

The court said a reasonable jury could conclude that the district committed intentional assault and could be found liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted on what happens as the case proceeds to trial.

The takeaway for employers: This lawsuit shows how dangerous and harmful springing disaster and workplace violence training on employees can be. Of course, it can be a good idea to prepare your employees for the unthinkable, but it’s dangerous to put them in a situation that could produce a shock to their systems.

Cite: McLean v. Pine Eagle School District

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