Codes of Conduct Can Protect Employees From Bullying

“…Managers must foster an environment of integrity, honesty and respect. This includes creating a work environment that is free from discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying of any kind. This type of behavior will not be tolerated and is inconsistent with our values and the Code of Conduct…” BNY MBNA Code of Conduct

Corporate Codes of Conduct

courtroomWhile the U.S. may not have a law in place yet to protect workers from the devastating impact of workplace bullying — or even an agreed upon definition — there are major corporations that recognize the vital role of mutual respect and professionalism. The recent decision of Mark A. Kuzma (Plaintiff) v. MBNA Institutional PA Services, LLC (Defendant) brings home just how powerful these corporate “Codes Of Conduct” can be. According to court papers, Kuzma was terminated by MBNA for repeated breeches of professional conduct as outlined in this 2007 memo Kuzma received putting him on notice:

We have spoken with all three of the participants in this meeting. The three of you have agreed on the facts of the matter: during a business discussion which was held around a situation involving Collective Funds, you lost your temper and displayed conduct which was unprofessional and inappropriate.

Specifically, you made disparaging and hurtful comments to your co-workers, thus eroding the teamwork which is critical to the success of the relationship. The teamwork concept between our group and the LOB risk and compliance employees is an absolute necessity, as you well know.

This incident is not the first time you have displayed unprofessional conduct which eroded the concept of teamwork. You have been coached and counseled on this subject on at least six occasions by me personally, including specific feedback on your annual performance appraisal.

This meeting is to advise you in the strongest terms that any further incident of this type, or any type of inappropriate conduct in the workplace[,] will result in, at minimum, a final written warning of corrective action.

Repercussions

Kuzma’s response was: “I deserve this. Even though I have said this before, I promise you this won’t happen again.”  The court papers show that Kuzma admits to “two (2) additional incidents of unprofessional conduct. In March of 2009, Kuzma raised his voice at Nick Rotunno regarding Rotunno’s refusal to work on Saturdays, and in August of 2009 he raised his voice at Pasko and smacked his hand on a conference table because Kuzma believed Pasko was not responding to his question.”

Kuzma was later fired after another incident in 2009. He filed suit against MBNA claiming age discrimination – an argument he lost. Here’s the section of the Court’s decision that presents the final incident that caused Kuzma to lose his job:

In or around August of 2009, Pasko was assigned the task to research and prepare a draft investment report for a BIC meeting scheduled for September 1, 2009. It was Kuzma’s policy to submit the report to the BIC on the weekend prior to the BIC meeting. Pasko did not submit the draft report until approximately 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 30, 2009.  In addition to submitting the report to Kuzma, Pasko e-mailed the draft report to in-house counsel Bennett Josselsohn, outside counsel Susan Serota, a member of the BIC who was asking for a copy of the report.

Kuzma reviewed the report on Monday morning and found that it contained errors. At approximately 9:37 a.m. on August 31, 2009, Kuzma sent an e-mail to Pasko, with copies to Piccoli and to both in-house and outside counsel, that stated: “There are a number of mathematical problems with the underlying charts. I am going to try and fix them all. Evidently, the work was not checked before release.” Pasko responded to the e-mail at approximately 9:58 a.m. stating, in relevant part: “. . . You could have stated that there were some adjustments to be made in the rounding function. You choose to be unprofessional, I’d like to discuss this with H.R.”

Kuzma admitted that after he read Pasko’s e-mail he felt Pasko was insubordinate and he became angry. Kuzma decided to see Pasko face to face and went to Pasko’s office. When he arrived at Pasko’s office, Kuzma threw the BIC report on his desk and got into an extended, very loud verbal confrontation with Pasko. Pasko testified that Kuzma slammed the report on his desk and said: “There’s 60 f___ing million dollars missing from this document . . .” and proceeded to pound his hand on the desk. Pasko Deposition, p. 55. Several employees witnessed the incident, and one employee, Beth Sarraco, was so affected she called Security. Employees, David Nesbit and Cathy Fabry, reported the incident to McCormish, who then notified Employee Relations and Human Resources about the incident.

Human Resources conducted an investigation of the August 31, 2009, incident involving Kuzma and Pasko. Carl Melella (“Melella”), Global Head of Employee Relations, and Michael Payne (Payne”), HR Consultant, met with Kuzma on September 2, 2009, to discuss the incident. Human Resources personnel also interviewed Pasko, Billingham, Fabry, Sarraco, Darnell Jackson and Dave Mirkovich. Payne reported the findings of the investigation to Todd Gibbons, McCormish, Piccoli, and Melella, on or about September 3, 2009. That same day, Mary Lou Zink, Managing Director of Human Resources, informed Gibbons and McCormish of Kuzma’s prior reprimands regarding incidents of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.

Gibbons, McCormish and Piccoli discussed the incident and subsequent investigation on September 3, 2009. Because of Kuzma’s history of inappropriate conduct and the severity of the incident with Pasko on August 31st, the decision was made to terminate Kuzma.  On September 4, 2009, Kuzma was terminated from his position with MBNA. Gibbons specifically testified that there were no discussions about Kuzma’s age or tenure prior to the decision to terminate Kuzma’s employment. Piccoli also testified that no one involved in the decision-making process, including Payne and Zink, ever discussed or mentioned Kuzma’s age.

3 thoughts on “Codes of Conduct Can Protect Employees From Bullying

  1. Thanks! It’s a fascinating case that I think highlights how vital it is for employers to step up and do the right thing. In this particular case there’s no long laundry lists of what bullying behavior might be just a simple phrase that employers seem to understand: unprofessional behavior.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Leading in HR: The Power of a Professional Conduct Policy | Linked 2 Leadership

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