April 26th, 2014
One of the worst workplace bully tales ever heard
Chris Gelineau, a manager at Interstate Battery System in Taylor, Michigan, gave us an example of cruel, sadistic behavior. Of the over 10,000 stories we’ve heard at the Workplace Bullying Institute, Gelineau’s actions — staging a robbery to scare his employee — is unprecedented. Read on….
Workplace Holdup Prank Ends in a $25,000 Lawsuit
By Robert Allen, Detroit Free Press, April 25, 2014
When two men in hoodies entered a Detroit auto parts store and frisked him against a wall, 24-year-old Justin Orman of Lincoln Park thought it was an armed robbery.
It turned out to be a prank arranged by his boss.
Orman was working for Interstate Battery System in Taylor when his boss sent him to pick up inventory and payments at Dealer Used Auto Parts on Grand River Avenue, according to a lawsuit filed April 14 in Wayne County Circuit Court seeking more than $25,000 in damages.
He was lured into the lobby, where two men pointed what appeared to be a gun at him, throwing him “face-first against the wall,” frisking him and telling him to “turn over anything of value or (he) would be shot,” according to the complaint detailing the March 2013 incident.
After 10 to 15 minutes fearing for his life, Orman watched the men flee. Store employees told him to leave and that they would make a report to police. Orman left, calling his boss, Chris Gelineau, who proceeded “to string him along” before admitting hours later that he “had set him up for a prank,” according to the complaint.
“The guy called it a prank,” said Orman’s attorney, Detroit lawyer Jeffrey Danzig. “I don’t consider a holdup with a gun a prank or a joke.”
Danzig said he has two witnesses who overheard the plot. The police were never called, and the would-be robbers didn’t take his wallet, which had $1 inside, he said.
Birmingham lawyer Meg Alli, representing Interstate Battery System, said the company is investigating the allegations and will act responsibly.
“The company only recently learned of Mr. Orman’s allegations and takes them very seriously,” Alli said. “The behavior as alleged in the lawsuit is inconsistent with our values.”
Gelineau, who still works at Interstate Battery System, declined to comment, deferring to the attorney.
Dealer Used Auto Parts, which also is named in the lawsuit, appears to be out of business. Danzig said they’d been unable to serve papers to the business with an address listed on the 20400 block of Grand River Avenue. Nobody answered a telephone number listed for the business on its website, and people outside the address on Tuesday told the Free Press that it had been closed for several months.
The complaint claims the incident left Orman with post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme mental anguish and three suicide attempts, the first on March 25, 2013. He’d returned to work for a few weeks then left in early April for minor knee surgery, when he was put on short-term disability. Orman was laid off the second week in April, Danzig said.
He said Orman, who had worked there as a lower-level laborer about four to six months, was “vulnerable” before the incident, struggling to make ends meet and living with his parents while dealing with anxiety and depression. It took a year to get a lawsuit filed, Danzig said, because other attorneys declined to take the case.
The plaintiff will need to prove the defendants intended to hurt Orman, which is “very, very difficult,” Danzig said in an e-mail.
“Given the fact that this was a (management) level employee who perpetrated this hoax, I believe that I can prove the intentional tort, which is why I took it,” he said, adding that being held up at gunpoint is enough to have triggered his client’s attempts at suicide.
J.J. Prescott, law professor at University of Michigan Law School, said in an e-mail that although workplace bullying is becoming “a bigger issue,” there’s nothing illegal about it. The plaintiff would have to show the behavior was intentional or reckless and caused “actual harm,” he said.
“So it all turns on the facts and whether the employer might be able to convince the jury that while perhaps the whole thing was a bad joke, that there was no real injury, or that the employee was oversensitive,” Prescott said.
Gary Namie, social psychologist and director of the Workplace Bullying Institute for 17 years, serves as an expert witness in bullying-related legal cases, according to the Bellingham, Wash.-based institute’s website.
“The brazenness of actually going to the effort to set that up shows a sadism of extraordinary levels,” he said of Orman’s case, which to Namie is “totally unprecedented.”
He said people are increasingly aware of workplace bullying issues in the U.S., especially after the allegations of it involving professional football players with the Miami Dolphins.
He said it happens across industries, especially in nursing and education, but that it’s usually more subtle. A man formerly employed at a Houston auto dealership filed a lawsuit in August claiming that coworkers Tasered him and put the video on YouTube.
Namie said surveys that his organization conducted show 27% of American workers have endured abuse on the job, but it usually involves more subtle assaults on people’s dignity, such as belittling competent workers.
None of the defendants in the Orman case had filed an answer to the complaint by Thursday, according to electronic court records. A status conference is scheduled for July 14.
The complaint alleges more than $25,000 in damages, but Danzig said he would leave it up to a jury to decide what Orman, who now works as a photographer, deserves.
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