Ever wonder how your employees would handle a life-threatening situation? Well, four supervisors of the West Kern Water District apparently did. And they didn’t just wonder; concerned about robberies in the area and following staff training, on July 29, 2011, they decided to test their cashiers by staging an armed robbery of the District’s office.
The supervisors put on quite a show. They kept their plans secret until one of the supervisors entered the District’s office wearing a ski mask and sunglasses. He approached cashier Kathy Lee, slammed a paper bag on the counter in front of her, and gestured to a note which read “I have a gun. Put your money in the bag.” Lee hesitated, and the supervisor began to pound on the counter and pointed again to the note. Lee filled the bag with money as the “robber” continued pounding and pointing, like any good robber might do. When the bag was filled, the supervisor grabbed the bag and fled. The other supervisors then entered the office and informed the employees that the robbery had been a fake.
Cashier Lee was hardly relieved at the news; she began crying hysterically. She then went on a medical leave for 3 months. She finally returned to work on a part-time basis, increasing to full-time after two weeks. Then she filed a lawsuit, alleging assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
These facts were presented at trial, although the defense claimed that not all the supervisors were involved and that the bag was not “slammed” on the counter. The defense also contended that workers’ compensation should be Lee’s exclusive remedy for her injuries. In a 10-2 verdict, the jury agreed with Lee and ultimately awarded her $360,000. Had the supervisor not worn the ski mask as was originally planned or announced that the robbery was a training drill, the results would likely have been different. As it is, a realistic robbery generated a very real verdict.