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A few years ago, I was assaulted by a coworker of mine who had a history of domestic violence (per a common friend, who dated him for a while). He had a short fuse and, on different occasions, had an attitude towards me. On that occasion, he believed I was disrespectful to him by asking another coworker to transmit a message to him about graphical assets I had needed from him for a few days. I simply didn't want to deal with him directly. While I was the project manager on top of the lead developer, he never did what I needed, thinking he knew better, doing his own thing instead.

The next day, right after I walked in, he barged into my office, slammed the door behind him and started yelling at me, with his face mere inches from mine, while pushing me towards the wall behind my desk. I then started to push back while asking him to leave.

He then yelled "Oh, that's what you want to do?" and initiated some sort of physical struggle with me. He was more athletic than me, as he was exercising daily. But I used to play rugby and was involved in nasty fights when I was a teenager. Although this part of my life was long gone, I knew how to fight, which he didn't.

I had no idea what he was trying to do or how he intended to end this, but I ended it by punching him on the nose, albeit with a certain amount of restraint, after trying several grabbing techniques. When we were done, he was red in the face and buttons had been torn off his shirt. Although I was upset and in shock, I had no injury and my clothes were fine. His face showed a red mark when I had punched him. Anybody walking in at that exact moment could have thought I had assaulted him and not the other way.

Note that, during the entire physical part of the struggle, I kept screaming "Are you crazy? Are you crazy?". There was one coworker who heard pretty much everything, including me screaming.

End of the story: we were both fired. He actually resigned the same day as he knew he was going to be fired. I was fired the next week with 2 months of severance and a $1000 per month for 2 more month for knowledge transfer (this was in 2005, by the way).

Because this was a very toxic work environment, I took the severance and then collected the 2 extra payments as a consultant. I was actually very tired of working there and had updated my resume recently.

What would have been my recourse, if any? There were no real witness to the entire confrontation, the police was not called and the only auditory witness (who heard pretty much everything from beginning to end) decided that she did not want to get involved.

Although this happened in Arizona, and this was at-will employment, the reason for my firing was clearly stated as being this incident and that I should be happy with the deal I was offered.

My relatives and friends believe I should have taken my employer and/or the coworker to court. I am not sure this was worth the effort

Edit: this was a mid-sized company with about 30 on-site employees and about the same number of consultants. There was no HR department to deal with and the CEO, who was by the way sympathetic to me, transferred the instructions passed to him directly by the owner of the company.

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    even if you're a better fighter you can be taken out by a lucky hit and then get your face rearranged or worse, so if you have to fight, fight. Either way you're getting terminated, so make it worth it. – Kilisi Jan 26 at 6:38
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    Might be a better fit on SE Law? – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Jan 26 at 11:28
  • What country/jusrisdiction? – Polygnome Jan 26 at 16:17
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    I'm a cynical guy, so I tend to think, given the deal you were offered, that you actually had some leverage here. It's very unlikely your former employer offered you a precisely fair deal. IANAL, but I wonder if you had a case against your former employer, since someone heard you being assaulted but did not call the police. – Chan-Ho Suh Jan 26 at 16:34
  • A situation like this is hard enough to prove when it’s recen but after more than a decade people’s memory can’t be trusted. – Ramhound Jan 26 at 23:30
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It's a tough break, but this one is all about "would have been" - there doesn't sound like anything you could do now.

From the perspective of the employer, two employees were fighting. Questions of who started it and who came off worse aren't relevant (though they could have been - see below).

It sounds like you have grounds to sue your former colleague for assault and loss of earnings, but having grounds is not the same as it being likely you would win a case. If you had made a statement to the police (whether or not you pressed charges, and whether or not a prosecution was brought) a civil case might have been successful, but that didn't happen. You're left with no police record of the incident, no witnesses willing to testify, and physical evidence (the mark and the damaged clothing) that works against you.

One of those annoying "if it happens again" answers (though I hope it doesn't and I know it's not a lot of use to you now) : recognise that you're likely to lose your job over fighting in the workplace, make a statement to police and confirm this to your employer.

But it sounds like you're best out of that environment.

5

You weren't terminated because you were assaulted by a co-worker. Period. Get that out of your system and move on.

You were terminated because you, as a manager, failed to handle the situation without escalating it further. Granted, with the information you provided in the OP you may have had very little choice in how you responded. But there's no point in anyone trying to second guess your actions based on a one-sided account of the event.

If you're in a management or supervisory position you owe it to yourself to:

  1. Learn to identify violent tendencies, behavior, or mannerisms in those you work with.
  2. Learn to de-escalate a situation without resorting to violence.
  3. Learn some level of crisis management.

You also need to take a close look at yourself and make sure that the possibility of your own violent tendencies didn't contribute to escalating the event.

TL:DR

There was very little that you could have done to argue your termination. Impossible to prove the facts of the altercation. Forget it and chalk it up to a painful learning experience.

  • I did report issues regarding his attitude prior to the incident, especially that he was not following orders and going his own way instead. There was no real offer to help. Smaller outfit. I now work in a much larger organization where this type of idiocy is less likely. I actually just managed to get someone removed from my current project for the proper reason. – Charlie Mike No Shoot Jan 27 at 7:12
2

If you are an athletic ex rugby player with fighting skills, you very rarely have to fight at all. The situation you describe certainly allows for slipping by him and out the door where there are witnesses. Then there would be many options - call the cops, pretend nothing happened and deal with the whole thing later on your terms etc.

But instead there were in fact two employees fighting. That’s a lose-lose situation. He was clearly a nut and didn’t mind starting it nor the consequences. By choosing to fight, you engaged on his terms and lost, because nothing could be gained.

Next time, use your fighting skills to walk away from the fight. It may be less honorable but smarter in the long run.

Edit: following some comments, I’ll clarify a couple points. First of all, it’s easy to discuss fights after the fact. UFC commenters always know what a fighter should’ve done, afterwards. So my answer is in the context of the information given and the question what could be done differently next time. We also assume the goal that OP keeps his job.

The ideal outcome would have been no fight at all. The next best thing no noticeable fight. And the next best thing perhaps a fight where witnesses see OP being assaulted and simply acting in self defense. What actually happened was the worst of these possibilities. An actual fight, no witnesses, and the perp visibly injured.

A better course of action: try to de-escalate to buy time and leave the room. If that doesn’t work, slip by and leave. If that doesn’t work, push him away and head for the door. If that doesn’t work, grapple and attack the body and groin, not the head, with the goal to break free and head for the door.

If none of that works, yell “help, help” while beating the crap out of the guy. But then we are back on square one.

Another reason for avoiding fights at all costs: people are crazy, they might have a knife or a gun, or come back with a weapon later. Lots of cases where people win fights and get killed or severely injured later.

Finally, none of that has anything with OP’s right to defend himself or claiming excessive violence. It’s about trying to minimize damage from a lose-lose situation.

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    I agree with the spirit behind this. I just don't agree with the circumstances. Door shut. Altercation already began. And the explanation why OP won seemed more of a retrospective. (But in the future, open the door first, then demand the person leave, while maintaining an escape route.) – bruglesco Jan 26 at 14:01
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    I don't think it's so easy to walk away from this situation where the other person trapped him in the office. The OP had some fighting experience as a teen, not as a martial arts master. Even the latter wouldn't find it so easy to walk away cleanly against someone intending serious injury. Once this situation starts, I think it's pretty much a lose-lose situation (like getting accused publicly of something, damage will be done even if you prove innocence). But at least OP escaped injury. – Chan-Ho Suh Jan 26 at 16:26
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    I believe that I had the right to defend myself in the manner that I did, first by pushing away, then resorting to calls for him to stop, finally using grabbing techniques and only resorting to a direct hit as a last means of self defense. This is not a case where I used a pistol to stop a wrestle. – Charlie Mike No Shoot Jan 27 at 7:14
  • @CharlieMikeNoShoot please see my updated answer. – frankhond Jan 29 at 20:39

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