ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Legal Newsline) – An employee of a municipal government in Alaska has failed in a bid to reverse his firing over allegedly making statements co-workers interpreted as threats.
The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's finding July 13 that Tom Donovan Nicolos was properly terminated, but went further and backed a personnel board's finding that he engaged in threatening behavior.
The ruling states Nicolos was fired from his job with North Slope Borough in northern Alaska after two incidents in which he described to others feelings of wanting to harm himself and others. He was known to have access to guns.
In one incident, staff members were told that Nicolos “had expressed ... that he had a list of people that he wanted to hurt either with guns or weapons," the ruling states. Individuals were named.
The ruling states one staff member told others that “ [Nicolos] had either planned or premeditated to come to the workplace and open fire.”
Following an investigation, a Personnel Board recommended Nicolos be fired for violating a rule against violence in the workplace.
Nicolos filed a complaint with the Superior Court, arguing he did not engage in misconduct and that the borough failed to carry out a proper investigation before termination. Further, Nicolos his comments were due to a mental disability and therefore his termination violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Superior Court, in fact, ruled that Nicolos' statements were not threats that violated the violence rule. It found that the rule “require[d] an employee to have intended to make a threat.”
And the court stated and that “[n]o reasonable person [could] find that Nicolos intended to threaten anyone when he sought help for his mental health issues.”
But the Superior Court did support the board's decision that some statements "violated the personnel rule requiring Nicolos to work effectively, amenably and courteously."
The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision, but went further by agreeing with the board that Nicolos "can be punished for his threatening statement or behavior so long as it could be interpreted by a reasonable person as conveying intent to cause physical harm."
Any claim under the ADA was rejected because of the other violations, the court found.