August 24th, 2012

When shootings have workplace connections


Here we go again America – another gun killing. This time, the shooter, Jeffrey Johnson, targeted a specific individual, Steve Ercolino. He gunned him down outside the Empire State Building. Johnson was let go one year ago from Hazan Imports, a small firm that designs handbags, where Ercolino was VP of sales.

After Johnson shot Ercolino twice, he left the scene and was followed by construction workers. When the police reached Johnson, he pulled his gun and the police killed him.

This might be an incident in which the shooter was a former bullied target. In a 2012 WBI survey, 41% of bullied targets reported that they “understand how a person could be driven to hurting or killing those who had bullied them.” Most shootings don’t involve bullying or bullied targets. Here’s the basis for my speculation.

My speculation is based on two reported facts. CNN reported that two men had a long-standing dispute at work. Each had filed harassment claims against the other. Since they were both men, and unless there were racial differences between the two, the harassment would not have met the criteria for illegal discriminatory harassment. That would have made the claims about bullying, the form of harassment that is legal when both parties are the same gender or same race. So, there might have been bullying of one by the other at the root of their “dispute.”

The second important fact is that Ercolino was walking to work with Irne Timan. She saw Johnson emerge from hiding behind a white van when the two neared. Timan told the NY Times reporters:

“I saw him pull a gun out from his jacket, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to shoot him’ — and I wanted to turn and push Steve out of the way,” Ms. Timan said, in a telephone interview from the precinct house where she was being interviewed. “I knew it, I just knew it was going to happen. But it was too late. Steve screamed, Jeff shot him, and I just turned and ran.”

Her report confirms the animosity Johnson felt toward Ercolino. In the aftermath, there will much soul searching about what could have been done differently at Hazan. Human resources should be asked to provide evidence they had tried to resolve the Johnson-Ercolino “dispute.”

Clearly, Johnson blamed Ercolino for his job loss. After a year with no work to fuel the resentment, Johnson made a decision he thought was the only option available to him. From the outside looking in, we know he had other options. But we were not in Johnson’s shoes. CNN’s lead sentence condemned the man as a “disgruntled former worker.”

Employers have the right to terminate based on economic necessity. But the methods of separation are worth considering prior to severing people. Layoffs can lead to destitution, lost homes, lost access to health care, strained family relationships. A little advance planning sprinkled with a dose of compassion could preclude standard resentments. Decisions have consequences.

Was Johnson given a severance? Was his unemployment denied? Was there no extension of benefits? Was he given bad references, making the next job impossible to get? We simply don’t know right now.

In the end, only Jeffrey Johnson was responsible for the tragedy he brought to the Ercolino and the families of all the people wounded in the process.


UPDATE Aug. 27

Globe and Mail reporters interviewed John Koch, office building manager, who reported old security camera footage from the building elevator showing Escolino and Johnson pushing and shoving. Then,

The tussle ended when Mr. Ercolino, a much larger man, pinned Mr. Johnson against the wall of the elevator by the throat, Mr. Koch said. Mr. Ercolino let him go after a few moments, and the two men went their separate ways.

The two hated each other. Ercolino may have dominated the relationship over Johnson, described as “an eccentric T-shirt designer and avid bird-watcher who wore a suit every day, even when photographing hawks in Central Park.”


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This entry was posted on Friday, August 24th, 2012 at 12:33 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Media About Bullying, Print: News, Blogs, Magazines, WBI Surveys & Studies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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