In the News

Experts: Domestic violence a workplace issue

by Staff Reporter, Sep 16, 2011

The Carthage nursing home shootings should teach employers that domestic violence can and does affect the workplace, experts said Friday.

“The Carthage nursing home case is a stern wake-up call to employers that they do face liability if they ignore domestic violence,” said Margee Herring, a Wilmington public relations consultant who organized the teleconference ahead of Domestic Violence Awareness month in October.

Johnny Lee, the director of Peace at Work, a Raleigh nonprofit organization, said domestic violence starts at home, by definition. But its effects on employees are too far-reaching for employers to ignore, he said.

Lee cited studies that show victims of domestic violence are late to work more often, miss work and are distracted and less productive as a result of abusive relationships at home.

Furthermore, domestic violence often carries over to the workplace, he said.

One study showed 74 percent of victims reported that an abusive partner showed up at the victim’s workplace and caused a scene.

A software firm in Research Triangle Park had its phone lines jammed after a secretary’s ex-boyfriend called the company’s 800-number 600 times in a single day.

Prosecutors argued Robert Kenneth Stewart was searching for his estranged wife when he killed eight people with a shotgun at the Pinelake nursing home, where she worked, in March 2009. He was sentenced earlier to this month to at least 142 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of eight counts of second-degree murder.

Family members of four of the victims have filed a lawsuit against Peak Resources, which owns Pinelake, and Stewart’s ex-wife, Wanda Neal.

The families argue that Neal told her supervisors she had left her husband and was worried he might come to the nursing home. As a result, the lawsuit argued, she was transferred work in a locked Alzheimer’s unit on the day of the shootings.

During the murder trial last month, a supervisor at Pinelake testified that Neal was working in the Alzheimer’s unit because the nursing home was short on properly trained staff that day.

The trial has been tentatively set for the fall 2012 in Moore County Superior Court.

Amy Worley, a Raleigh lawyer who specializes in labor and workplace lawsuits, said the Pinelake lawsuit isn’t the first workplace wrongful death case due to workplace violence.

In 1999, a jury in Charlotte awarded $8 million to two employees killed by a violent coworker.

“Juries will look at an employer and say ‘You should have known, you should have done more and you should have prevented this,'” Worley said.


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