Threatening to shoot a co-worker is generally not a good idea. But what if it’s after that colleague has just rattled off a series of offensive sexual jokes aimed directly at you?
That’s the question a circuit court recently was forced to address after an ex-employee filed suit, claiming hostile work environment and retaliation.
Here are the details of the case:
Twila Gaff was a nurse and manager at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, and Cecil Nelson was one of her direct reports.
Gaff and Nelson apparently had a somewhat contentious relationship. Gaff claimed in court documents that Nelson “smiled and stared at her a little too much” and told her once that all she needed was “a good f–k.”
This all came to a head one day when Nelson said Gaff’s husband was leaving her for another woman.
Gaff responded by saying that she owned a .357 revolver, that she knew how to use it, and that Nelson’s comment was “the kind of joke that can get someone shot.”
The medical center immediately fired Gaff, citing the threat to shoot Nelson as the reason.
Was it retaliation?
But Gaff wasn’t so sure that the threat was the real reason she was fired. She filed suit against the medical center, claiming that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that she was fired in retaliation for opposing discrimination.
The court was to quick to acknowledge that Nelson “conducted himself immaturely.”
But it also found that Nelson’s comments were isolated, and that his behavior wasn’t pervasive or severe enough to support a hostile work environment claim.
Beyond that, the court said, the medical center was able to provide a legitimate, non-retaliatory and non-discriminatory reason for firing Gaff — her threat of violence against Nelson.
After Gaff acknowledged in court that she had threatened to shoot Nelson, the court concluded:
“All of this, of course, only tends to underscore, not undermine, St. Mary’s (non-discriminatory) stated cause for concern.”
The case is Gaff v. St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.