(Editor’s Note: In the vast majority of the case stories we write for this newspaper, we use simple, declarative prose. But in the following piece, the ghost of Hemingway seized the keyboard. Maybe it was the tale it told.)
It was morning, and his back hurt. It was a dull ache that nearly doubled him over. He knew he would not be able to go to work at the big plant in the New River Valley where they make the Swedish trucks.
A short time passed. Maybe it was the aspirin he took or the fine breakfast he had eaten, but he decided he could go to work.
He dressed and drove to the big plant.
In his pain, he did not think of the rooster. It was not a real bird. It was a guy who dressed as a rooster and crowed at you and flapped his arms if you were late. And he would be late that day.
He got to work and made his way to his work station in the big plant. And he started working.
His back hurt a little, but he was able to do his job. He did not see the rooster as it made its way across the big plant. He did not see the rooster as it snuck up to crow at him and flap its arms to chide him for being late that day. He only heard the rooster when it was right behind him.
So he did what any man who had an aching back and who had struggled in to work and who had just been startled by a damn silly rooster might do.
He punched the bird.
Then he was very sorry to find himself applying for unemployment. He was even more sorry when the bureaucrats said he could have none for he had broken the company rule against fighting.
He knew if he was to get unemployment, his hope lay with the judge. So he appealed.
This tale of a man who lost his job for an odd sort of cockfighting has a sort-of happy ending.
Though the Virginia Employment Commission denied unemployment benefits based on misconduct, Pulaski Circuit Judge Colin R. Gibb found that there were mitigating circumstances that overcame the misconduct.
Gibb noted that it had been the custom at the Volvo plant in Pulaski for a fellow employee to dress up as a rooster and appear at a tardy employee’s work station and crow.
“While the Court is certain that dressing up and playing a rooster was not within the job description of that employee, it is a role that given the totality of the circumstances was clearly sanctioned by the employer,” Gibb wrote.
“While it is desirable to encourage employees to be on time for work, hindsight would indicate that the rooster was not a good idea,” he added.
Gibb distinguished this case from other misconduct cases. He said “the rooster was acting in a quasi-official capacity, and while the response of the petitioner violated his employer’s rule, it certainly should not have been unexpected.”
The judge said the incident came about as a result of “inappropriate conduct on the part of the employer who, by his own admission, permitted the rooster to repeatedly violate several company rules.”
While the worker also violated the rules, “it was certainly a response that should have been predictable and in fact was invited by provocative acts sanctioned by his employer,” Gibb wrote, reversing the commission and granting unemployment benefits to the worker.
For the record, the case is Lineberry v. Va. Employment Comm’n (VLW 095-8-131).