Thursday, April 5, 2012

NC Shooting Case: An Employer That Doesn't Care

A school principal was driving to the office, talking to his administrative intern and curriculum coach on a cell phone that was provided by his employer. They were discussing the baby chickens that had hatched at the school and what had to be done with them as the school was letting out for Easter break, the new technology for the school, and the positioning of school staff when the students would be let out, when an unknown assailant in a pickup truck pulled alongside at an intersection and shot the principal in the face.

The school district denied workers' compensation benefits claiming his injury "was not a result of an accident" and "did not arise out of and in the course and scope of…employment."

I was outraged when I first learned of this case, and I'm still outraged at the behavior of the school district that contested this case.

The case is Hunt v. North Carolina Industrial Commission et al., No. W18411, and the North Carolina appellate court correctly found in favor of the school principal, James Hunt, on Tuesday.

Since the shooting, Hunt has undergone more than a dozen surgical procedures to repair the damage to his face, mouth, teeth, and right hand. His life is irreparably altered. The pain of his ordeal indelibly inscribed in his memory, the lack of empathy of his employer clearly communicated: "we don't care."

At the original hearing Hunt testified that he believed he was attacked in retaliation for his efforts to reduce gang activity in and around the school.
"Somebody did this to me…because of my role as a school administrator," he said. "Some decision I made or some student that I suspended or some gang member that I took some territory from didn't like it."

He also said he had received threats from some of the parents of his students and was suspicious of staff members whom he had to discipline.

Despite the fact that the original hearing officer granted benefits, which the Industrial Commission affirmed, the school district persisted, ensuring that Hunt lived with this day of near-death for THREE YEARS.

The appellate court noted that the district did not challenge key evidentiary findings by the commission: that Hunt had problems with gangs at Fairgrove Middle School, that he had suspended one gang leader from the school, and that he had a confrontation with another not long before the shooting; that “principals in Robeson County are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week," and that the conversation Hunt had with Brown was an allowable use of the cell phone which the school district paid for and provided.

In addition, Hunt undisputedly received a travel allowance of $594.08 twice a year, and the district did not challenge the commission's determination that he used this money to cover the cost of commuting to and from the school.

Nope - the district argued the going and coming rule.

I don't know who was counseling the district on this case, but clearly that counsel was erroneous when gauged by anyone with workers' compensation experience.

Hunt, now 39, told WRAL News in North Carolina that he and his family struggled financially without the compensation payments, and was grateful for the assistance provided by his community.

He said he did not feel ready emotionally to return to work, but he is determined to do all he can to find his assailant.

"My case is going to be solved," he said. "I will not rest until I have closure (and) whoever did this – one or two – is brought to justice."

The district in the meantime is reportedly still reviewing the case to determine it's next course of action.

Seems to me the district's next course of action is to pay Hunt his past due disability benefits, pay his medical bills, and focus their investigative and legal resources on finding the perpetrator of the crime, bring him to justice and bring this case to a closure.

In the meantime I simply do not see how Hunt can return to work for this employer. They have clearly communicated how they treat their employees. My guess is that this is also a reflection of the quality of education in this district as well.

1 comment:

  1. David, great article. Thanks. I was actually researching this story for a post on my own site. I referenced you - thanks!