Assault with wrench: Automatic grounds for dismissal?

Virtually every rule has its exception. In addition, exception is hard to accept when the rule of discipline applies to violent misconduct.
By Raymond Dreyfack April 1, 1998

Virtually every rule has its exception. In addition, exception is hard to accept when the rule of discipline applies to violent misconduct. Yet, even where personal assault with a weapon is involved, under extreme circum- stances, mitigation may have its place.

Utility Worker Jerome Spiro was the worst kind of bigot, the kind who isn’t satisfied to merely hate, but feels compelled to do something about it. Spiro hated Senior Toolroom Attendant Murray Golden on general principles. Mostly it was because Golden was Jewish, but more specifically, because Golden had advanced several notches from the utility job Spiro himself long had held to a higher paying job while Spiro’s own career was dead-ended.

Golden, avoiding conflict, had persistently ignored Spiro’s insulting remarks and religious slurs, responding with silence and a kind of pitying half smile. This enraged Spiro even more and intensified his hatred.

One day, while in a particularly vicious mood, Spiro strung a thin wire across an aisle where Golden, carrying a box of tools, had to cross on his way back to the supply room. Spiro laughed raucously when Golden tripped over the wire and sprawled headlong, spilling the tools and hitting his shoulder against a metal shelving unit.

It was last straw time. Grabbing a pipe wrench, the nearest available weapon, Golden attacked Spiro with the tool, inflicting several blows before being pulled off by coworkers. Spiro, black, blue, and swollen, promptly filed a complaint, charging Golden with “murderous assault,” and insisting that he be fired.

Golden didn’t deny the charge, his only regret being that his assault had failed to accomplish its purpose.

What to do in response? Maintenance Foreman Art Belden, at a loss to answer that question, made a beeline for his boss’ office.

Question: What discipline, if any, would you apply in this case?

Oliver’s verdict: Plant Engineer Todd Oliver listened to Belden’s rundown of the incident provoked by Spiro’s witnessed planting of the wire that tripped Golden.

“Ordinarily,” he told Belden, “violent assault of this kind would be grounds for immediate dismissal. In this case an exception is in order. On the one hand, however provoked, violent response cannot be condoned. I’d suggest a token three-day suspension to Golden for his excessive response. On the other hand, employees of Spiro’s ilk cannot be tolerated. In view of his provocation in this incident, and his record of biased and antisocial behavior, I don’t see his immediate termination as too harsh a penalty.”