Ryan Chartrand

A Cal Poly employee filed a $160,000 lawsuit against the university on Monday for not providing a safe work environment when he was attacked by a subordinate employee last year. The custodial supervisor Chris Leitz claims that the university should have prevented the attack by then-custodian James Reynolds.

After Leitz reportedly gave Reynolds a poor review last year, Reynolds – who was armed with a machete – crashed his car into Leitz. Reynolds was sentenced to a year in county jail last July for assault with a deadly weapon.

In the lawsuit, Leitz alleges that his supervisor at the time, Tom Ramler, who has since left Cal Poly, instructed him to try to force employees to resign – which ultimately led to the employee-on-employee violence.

Although Leitz claims he attempted to convey Reynolds’ violent nature to Ramler, he alleged that his concerns were ignored.

“The university actually had seminars on violence in the workplace and how to prevent it,” said Leitz’s attorney Patrick Sparks. “But they did nothing in this circumstance. That’s where the problem is.”

Sparks said Reynolds was an example of an employee “gone postal” – a phrase that comes from 1980s U.S. Postal Service workers who injured their managers because of work-related stress.

Workers compensation is an exclusive remedy for workplace-related injuries, which is not applicable unless there is a violation of public policy.

“That’s what our allegations are,” Sparks said. “We wouldn’t have filed lawsuit unless we had a reasonable basis for why we think there was violation of public policy.”

Although Cal Poly’s legal counsel cannot directly comment on an open case, the university’s attorney, Carlos Cordova, said employees have many options for reporting their concerns.

“Cal Poly does have policies regarding workplace violence that allow many avenues employees can take if they feel threatened,” Cordova said.

In 1998 Cal Poly established a Workplace Violence Prevention Committee to deal with these types of situations.

The program’s guidelines state that, “Once an administrator or supervisor has knowledge of workplace violence under his or her administrative jurisdiction, the administrator or supervisor must take timely steps to deal with the matter appropriately by consulting with Human Resources.”

Cordova said this is the first lawsuit Cal Poly has received regarding workplace violence.

“This was a criminal act of an employee against another,” Cordova said. “It’s something we have no control over and certainly don’t condone.”

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