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Asked to Resign, Worker Allegedly Kills 8, Then Himself; Could Rampage Have Been Foreseen?

Posted Aug 3, 2010 5:11 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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In the aftermath of the deadliest workplace shooting since 2009, shocked onlookers are wondering why and what, if anything, could have been done to prevent the rampage this morning by a warehouse driver at a beer distributor in Connecticut.

The mother of a girlfriend of the accused suspect, Omar Thornton, said he had complained of racial harassment at Hartford Distributions and also had contended that his supervisors at the company hadn't responded to protect him, reports the Associated Press.

However, in a written statement, the union that represented Thornton says he had not complained of racial discrimination.

Thornton had been asked to quit and called in for a disciplinary hearing today, perhaps concerning a videotape that allegedly showed him taking beer, according to the AP and the Christian Science Monitor.

Starting around 7 a.m., Thornton allegedly killed eight individuals and then, it appears, himself with a semiautomatic rifle.

While what happened today in Manchester, Conn., is still being ascertained, it is common for such incidents of workplace violence to be preceded by warning signs, Pamela Moore of McCarter & English tells the ABA Journal in an e-mailed statement.

"In many, if not most, of these situations, the employee has demonstrated behaviors that are worrisome but workplace policies and employment laws prevent an employer from taking early enough action to protect employees," writes Moore, who heads the law firm's labor and employment law practice group. "In these situations, the best advice to clients is to risk getting sued by an employee if you reasonably believe s/he could harm even one employee.

"Even then it is difficult to eliminate the risk entirely," Moore continues. "Background investigations, training on early warning signs and other measures may limit the risk, but if someone is unstable enough to engage in workplace violence, there may be nothing an employer can do to avoid it.”

Daniel Schwartz expresses similar views in a post today on the Connecticut Employment Law Blog.

While employers will undoubtedly soul-search about potential protective measures that might be taken, perhaps with positive effect, "the awful truth is that there really is no way to prevent tragedies like this from ever occurring," he concludes. "An employer can do everything 'right' and yet still a rampage ensues by someone committed to carrying out a terrible crime."

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