Chesterton Tribune


Ex-employee sues local business in federal court, alleges defamation

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A former employee of Air Products and Chemicals Inc. in Westchester Township is suing the company in federal court, alleging among other things defamation and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

On Nov. 23, Ronald Gellinger filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in Hammond.

The suit alleges the following:

•That on Aug. 20, 2012, Gellinger faxed to Air Products a “Certification of Health Care Provider for an Employee’s Serious Health Condition,” pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Air Products did not reply.

•That on Aug. 27, 2012, Gellinger appeared for work and was “verbally assaulted and threatened by another employee,” prompting him to leave work. Later in the day, Gellinger called his supervisor to say that the supervisor needed to “get the situation under control” because “he would rather hang himself before returning to a place were people were going to be rude and violent.” That phrase—“hang himself”—the suit describes as “a term of art, not a literal statement.” The suit further claims that the supervisor knew the statement not to be a “literal threat.”

•That on Aug. 28, Gellinger’s supervisor made a 911 call in which he advised the dispatcher that he believed Gellinger to be suicidal and that, following that call, police officers arrived at Gellinger’s residence “to inquire as to his mental status.” Those officers determined that “there was no merit to the (supervisor’s) allegations of a potential threat.”

•That, at Air Products’ request, Gellinger submitted to a psychological evaluation on Aug. 31, in which the psychologist determined that Gellinger “was not a threat to himself or others” but was “just frustrated over the lack of (the supervisor’s) ability to diffuse a threatening situation with a co-worker.”

•That, also on Aug. 31, despite the psychologist’s determination, Gellinger was terminated after the supervisor told him that he was “no longer fit for the company.”

The four-count suit specifically accuses Air Products:

•Of violating the Family and Medical Leave Act, by discriminating against him and discharging him without just cause, “in retaliation for (Gellinger’s) serious health condition.”

•Of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, by discriminating against Gellinger, “who had a disability,” and by discharging him “without just cause.”

•Of violating the company’s own Employee Code of Conduct by “discharging and then re-hiring” a co-worker who threatened Gellinger and others; and by “failing to discharge the co-worker for his threats of violence in the work place.”

•And by defaming Gellinger, by “making false accusations that (Gellinger) had made serious threats to himself and by reporting the same to management and to the police department.”

Gellinger is seeking a judgment against Air Products of $1 million, punitive damages, and attorney fees.



Posted 12/7/2012