Here’s a true story that should give any railroad supervisor pause. The fact is, you never know where an act of retaliation will lead. After you commit an act of retaliation, you simply can not control how it reverberates in people’s lives. And while all retaliation hurts, it can kill as well. It’s like a felony-murder: when in the course of a robbery someone gets unforseeably killed, the robber is still guilty of murder even though he never intended anyone to die.
Case in point. A notorious Metro North supervisor with a long history of abusing his authority decided to humiliate one of his electricians in front of his gang. Why? Because the worker was taking FMLA leave to be with his wife for the birth of their baby and to help her during the weeks thereafter.
The electrician complained to Metro North’s Workforce Diversity Department, who commenced an investigation. In response, the supervisor proceeded to retaliate against the worker by improperly abolishing his job and then refusing to allow him to transfer into a different district, trapping him. The public humiliation and the cumulative abuse was the last straw that broke the worker’s emotional equilibrium. He felt his choice was to return to work and "go postal" when he saw the supervisor again, or to give up his railroad career. He chose to avoid violence and resign (the law calls that a "constructive discharge" because the railroad made his work life so intolerable it forced his resignation).
The problem is, he then lost medical coverage for his wife and baby, he lost his regular income and pension, and he struggled to replace the wages and self-respect he earned in his railroad job. Metro North’s Workforce Diversity Office completed its investigation of the supervisor, and concluded the supervisor was guilty and deserving of severe discipline. But what happened? His managers refused to accept Metro North’s own ruling, and watered down the discipline so it was meaningless.
Several weeks later, the worker put a bullet in his head. A life destroyed, a productive career lost, a family devastated, a baby girl who will never know the love of her father. And all because the Railroad’s managers reflexively protect their abusive supervisors.
Of course, when sued for wrongful death and FMLA violations Metro North tried to wriggle out from its liability, but the federal judge has refused to let the Railroad off the hook. Metro North now will have to face a jury, who will decide under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) whether the Railroad’s conduct played any part at all in causing the worker’s death. Let us all pray that, for the sake of his widow and baby girl, justice will prevail.