Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mason v. Avaya Communications, Inc.

I was really intrigued by the case we are to have read for Monday entitled “Mason v. Avaya Communications, Inc.” While I agreed with the ruling that Diane Mason’s request for an at-home accommodation was unreasonable because it eliminated an essential function of the job (Mason’s physical attendance in Avaya’s administration center), I felt that the initial part of the case was not dealt with properly. That is, the incident involving Kevin Lunsford, a co-employee of Mason’s who worked with her in Avaya’s Oklahoma City administration center.

Apparently, in March of 2000, Lunsford pulled out a knife during a verbal confrontation with a coworker at the administration center. In addition to this, Lunsford had at one point threatened to “go postal,” and it was discovered that he kept a supply of weapons, along with a “hit list.” Following the knife incident and verbal confrontation, Lunsford was suspended from work for a week, but returned thereafter. I was completely surprised by this because, for one, it seems like a very short punishment for someone who seems to be, potentially, very dangerous. Of course, I lack many of the details of the case, so it’s difficult for me to speak about the intricacies of such.

Mason was upset by the fact that Lunsford was allowed back to work so quickly, but Avaya assured her that it had conducted a “fitness-for-duty” exam on Lunsford and determined that “he could safely return to the workforce.” A few things surprise me about this case. It’s interesting that there were no other complaints from coworkers about Lunsford. I know that if I had been at work and had witnessed my coworker pull a knife on someone, I’d be pretty distressed (regardless of whether or not I had experienced post traumatic stress disorder in the past). It just seems so odd to me that there wasn’t more of a stir regarding the issue of Lunsford’s return. (It also makes me wonder if Mason was overreacting to the situation.)

Based on our reading in Muir and according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer can take action if a disabled individual represents a current and real threat to others in the workplace. I suppose that Lunsford was not considered “disabled,” which is why this didn’t apply to him. But it seems to me that his behavior was inappropriate, despite his physical or mental condition, and should have been punished more severely.

Overall, while I do think that Mason’s request to work from home was unreasonable, I do think that there were other more appropriate steps that could have been taken to assure a safe and comfortable working environment for everyone involved. For example, perhaps Lunsford could have been transferred to a different department or even a different branch. After all, since it was he who caused the altercation, it seems reasonable that he should have to take whatever steps necessary to fix it (even if it’s somewhat inconvenient for him). I know I have completely derailed the case from its primary objective, but I am just wondering if anyone felt similarly?


Blogger Sflohr said...

While I can definitely see where your concerns are coming from, I think it is important to realize that not much information about the Lunsford incident is included in the case that we read. Therefore a lot of questions about how the employer dealt with the situation are left unanswered.

I have hard time believing that it was something so detrimental as to require him to transfer because there were no other complaints that we know of. In the text we read that requiring employers to transfer employees for any reason is severely criticized as a way to remedy any situation.

I just think that before we make any rash judgments about how the Lunsford incident was handled that we should be better informed of what exactly happened, who was involved, and if there were any repercussions due to the incident.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Vic Simianu said...

Although Sarah's post raises a good point, I still want to second Lilly's notion that something seems awry in the way the Lunsford incident was handled by Avaya. Perhaps the case's portrayal of the Lunsford incident was incomplete, but I think that Lunsford's (1)threat to go postal, (2) arsenal of weapons, and (3)fact that he compiled a hit list all go to show that Lunsford's situation is significantly troubling.

The timing for Lunsford's actions also need to be taken into consideration. This happened a short time after the Columbine shootings, when the topic of "hit lists" and domestic violence was not a laughing matter (not saying that it is now, but I hope you understand my point). I do believe that Mason's request to work from home posed an undue hardship, but I also believe that the situation could have been handled MUCH better by Avaya. In the interest of imposing blame, Avaya's neglect to professionaly and adequately handle a terrorist threat clearly caused Mason's distress. Although the case turned out in Avaya's favor, I don't that they are free from fault.

3:33 PM  

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