The Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration recently held that a board of education possessed just cause to discharge an employee who expressed suicidal feelings to co-workers and joked to a hospital worker that if he were going to commit suicide, he would “take the whole school down with me.”
A middle school custodian informed a hospital worker that he felt suicidal, and allegedly told her that “if I was going to kill myself, I’d take my machine gun and take the whole school down with me.” The custodian was taken to the hospital’s crisis intervention service. He apologized for his remark, and the crisis intervention service concluded that he suffered from a depressive disorder and was not homicidal or suicidal.
Upon investigation, other board employees reported that the custodian had expressed suicidal feelings to them. Based on its investigation, the school district terminated the custodian. The union filed a grievance, arguing that the employee had not received progressive discipline.
The arbitration panel found that the board of education had just cause to discharge the employee. His remark was “reckless,” “grossly inappropriate” and caused a real fear that a tragedy could result. “Grievant’s reckless remark was sufficiently serious,” wrote the arbitrators, “that he should have realized that termination could result.” It should come as no surprise that given Connecticut’s tragic history of school violence, little leeway should be expected by employees who talk about committing violent acts in schools.