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Employer Must Show A Credible Threat of Violence To Get A Restraining Order On Behalf Of Its Employee
On March 24, 2021, Matthew Mehdi Rafat visited a local branch of the Technology Credit Union bank. Rafat made a cash deposit with the assistance of a Bank employee named M.L. The court refers to this employee by her initials only to preserve her privacy. After the cash deposit, Rafat wanted to open a business account. M.L. explained to Rafat that Bank policy prevented her from opening a business account for him on the same day he requested one. Instead, Bank policy required Rafat to first complete a questionnaire for review.
M.L. began working with Rafat to complete the questionnaire, but Rafat became aggressive, and frustrated, and began belittling her once she asked the first question regarding the nature of Rafat’s business. Rafat began videotaping M.L. and kept getting closer and closer to the plexiglass screen that separated them. Rafat ignored M.L.’s repeated requests to stop videotaping her. Rafat left the Bank after M.L. eventually gave him both hers and her manager’s business cards.
Rafat emailed M.L.’s manager that same day to say that M.L. had refused to open an account for him and to ask the manager to investigate M.L.’s “refusal and slash or incompetence.”
The next day, Rafat returned to the Bank, made a video recording of himself outside the Bank, and momentarily entered the Bank to get another business card. He did not interact with M.L. while in the Bank.
On March 26, Rafat sent M.L’s manager another email attaching the video he had taken as well as threatening to both file a lawsuit and a complaint with an unnamed federal agency.
The Bank filed a request for a Workplace Violence Restraining Order (WVRO). The trial court found that Rafat was overly aggressive and lost his cool on March 24, 2021, but concluded that this conduct did not meet the WVRO standard. But, the trial court found that Rafat’s conduct on the following day did meet the WVRO standard because Rafat had returned to the Bank; posted the video of the interaction to YouTube; and concerned M.L’s manager so much that she hired security for the Bank. Rafat appealed.
The California Court of Appeal reiterated the standard for a WVRO. For an employer to obtain a WVRO on behalf of its employee, the employer must show that the employee endured “unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence.”
The Court of Appeal found there was no unlawful violence. Next, the Court of Appeal reviewed whether Rafat made a credible threat of violence, and determined he did not. The Court characterized Rafat’s conduct as “indisputably rude, impatient, aggressive, and derogatory”. The only threats Rafat made were litigation and a complaint to a federal agency. The only actions he took towards M.L. were berating her, complaining to her supervisor, and posting an accurate video of their March 24 interaction. This video also contained no implication nor suggestion of violence. The Court of Appeal was forced to reverse the trial court’s judgment and vacate the WVRO.
Tech. Credit Union v. Rafat, 2022 WL 3444075 (Cal Court of Appeal).
It is becoming exceedingly common for public-facing employees to receive rude and aggressive behavior. This case illustrates the difficulty in obtaining a WVRO if no violence or threat of violence occurs. Even if the WVRO standard cannot be met, employers should give their employees a safe workplace through other means. Maintaining up-to-date security procedures can also help employees feel safe.