The Importance Of Intent In Termination Cases

Andrea Yvette Allen was a Correctional Probation Senior Supervisor for the Florida Department of Corrections. She served as an office manager and had 27 years of service.

In order to develop better relationships with the officers she supervised and become a more valuable employee, Allen decided to take a gun class offered by the Department. Her husband purchased a Glock 9 mm for her at Walmart, also buying a gun belt and other paraphernalia. One of Allen’s employees purchased the ammunition she would need. She put all the items into large Walmart plastic bags in the back seat of her vehicle, and her husband drove her to work.

A number of persons from Allen’s office were going to the shooting range after work that day to practice, and Allen intended to join them. It was raining hard that morning when Allen’s husband drove up to a locked door to the office. Allen was in the passenger seat. The bags with all her shooting gear, including shoes and clothes, had fallen off the back seat during the drive to work. Her husband stuffed all the fallen items into the Walmart bags and inadvertently included the gun box. Allen had planned to leave the gun in the car because she knew she could not bring it into work.

Allen grabbed all the bags from her husband, and placed them in her office on a chair and on her desk. Officer Jon Herendeen, whom Allen supervised, looked in the bags when he knew Allen would not be in her office. Herendeen reported the presence of the gun to another supervisor, and the Department began an investigation. When the Department terminated Allen, her labor organization appealed to arbitration.

An arbitrator reversed the termination, and reinstated Allen, but without back pay. The Arbitrator started with the proposition that “bringing a weapon into the office and leaving it unsecured is an extremely serious mistake. On the other hand, Allen acted without purpose or intent. That does not insulate her from serious discipline, but it must be considered in the mix of evidence.

“There are also significant factors in mitigation present here that should be taken into account. Allen was a 27-year employee with only a few minor transgressions on her record that are outweighed by her splendid evaluations and the commendations she received. Her misconduct that day was uncharacteristic, the result of carelessness, not deliberate or conscious violations of Code provisions. Her conduct was neither willful nor persistent, but purely inadvertent.”

In addition, the Arbitrator was concerned by the fact that the Department had not terminated another employee who intentionally placed a gun in a filing cabinet. The Arbitrator noted that “it is a well-established principle of arbitral jurisprudence that all employees who engage in the same type of misconduct must be treated essentially the same. In some ways, the other employee’s conduct was even more serious than Allen’s. She must have knowingly placed her gun into her file cabinet, while Allen did not even know she had brought her weapon to work. Without question, Allen had more supervisory authority than the other employee, and thus she may have deserved more serious discipline because of the leadership role she plays, but there is a difference in kind between a two-week suspension and a discharge after 27 years on the job.”

State of Florida, Department of Corrections, 2014 WL 2730754 (Abrams, 2014).