Legal Question in Personal Injury in Virginia

I am a salesman of cars and have a problem. Another salesman has threatened me physically and has on two occasions made a scene in the showroom denouncing me and my methods. I have informed management of the situation. The managers of the dealership support me and believe that the other salesman is just jealous. Management has informed me that they had a meeting with the other salesman in which they strongly condemned his actions and told him that his actions would not be tolerated but they did not fire him or do anything of substance as far as I can tell. Then we all sat down and management attempted to smooth over the issues so that we may at least have a professional environment in which to do business. In the meeting I expressed that I was willing to move on and forget about his actions. I offered my hand and was rebuffed by the other salesman. During the entire meeting, the other salesman was mute except to proclaim that he would not shake my hand. He would not shake my hand. Management denounced his actions as ridiculous, etc and then management ended the meeting. I quietly concluded that since we have not resolved the matter, the salesman's physical threat still stands as does his verbal insults and abuse, etc. What do I do next? What do I do if he continues to verbally abuse me? What do I do if he physically assaults me? I am confident that I could quite easily best him in any physical altercation. I am strong and fit and in my fifties while he is in his sixties or older. If he physically or verbally abuses me, what legal protections or remedies do I have? Do I give up my legal rights, if I give him the physical beating he clearly deserves? What if he is permanently injured or dies in the altercation? What do I do?

Asked on 7/06/15, 5:49 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Stephen B. Pershing Stephen B. Pershing, Esq.

Hello--good grief, how miserable. What a petty, infantile series of displays this sounds like. Bravo to you for being bigger than this behavior. But yes, you have claims, and no, you don't need to make them with your fists to get relief. Nor should you, for the reasons you suspect--violence by you gets you in civil or even criminal trouble, and self-defense claims can be hard to prove--you have to have had a reasonable fear of imminent severe bodily harm, not just a course of abusive actions by the co-worker. But I think the dealership would bear legal responsibility if they kept him and he carried out any of his threats of violence against you.

Next, even if both of you are contractors and not employees, it seems to me the dealership should have fired this guy by now, and may be liable for not doing so under various tort or contract theories on the evidence we already have. I would keep logging and reporting every threat or other instance of mistreatment, then keeping track of your reports and meetings. I would also raise the buzz-phrase "hostile working environment," a term borrowed from civil rights law. I see nothing in your description to indicate racial or other unlawful discrimination--allowing co-worker maltreatment based on illicit criteria like race, national origin or religion can get the employer in civil rights trouble--but common-law tort and contract claims are available regardless. In civil rights law there's such a thing as a hostile working environment, and this sounds like it even though not based on an illicit discriminatory criterion. We'd argue by analogy that it's a tort by the dealership, or a breach of its contract with you, to create, foster or fail to relieve an oppressive working environment that would be intolerable to any reasonable person. You shouldn't have to quit to assert the claim, but if you did quit we would have a constructive discharge claim based on the environment's intolerability, so you can tell them that.

Or you can get a lawyer to write a well-constructed letter with this stuff in it. That ought to spur them to fire the guy. You'd have to think about whether he's a stalker, but in no event would I advise taking physical action against him. That'll only make you the issue, which is the last thing we want. You can ask them one more time, making a written note of the request, saying your next step will be to contact legal counsel.

I hope this gives you a sense you have recourse. I regularly write elegant nastygrams like the one I'm suggesting, and I would gladly do it for you for not a lot. I'm an experienced civil rights plaintiffs' lawyer licensed in Va., D.C. and Md. Feel free to write me at [email protected] Good luck whatever you decide. --Steve Pershing.

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Answered on 7/07/15, 5:37 am

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