Judge Blasts Armored Car Firm For Firing Hero Employee
The Washington Supreme Court may be asked to decide whether it was more important for an armored-car guard to save a woman’s life or stay with the money.
U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush said Thursday he is inclined to send the firing of Kevin Gardner of Spokane to the state’s highest court for review.
The judge was sharply critical of Loomis Armored Inc., which fired its hero driver a year ago. Quackenbush urged the Houston-based company to settle a pending lawsuit filed by Gardner.
“I’m troubled by Loomis’ attitude in this case,” the judge said Thursday.
“Is the money (in the armored car) more important than this woman’s life?” Quackenbush asked Loomis attorney Pat Folan, of Torrance, Calif.
Quackenbush said the company’s decision to fire Gardner demonstrated a corporate lack of compassion, conscience, civility, caring, courtesy “and, probably most important, common sense.” The state court can decide whether “public policy issues” override work rules when lifesaving acts are involved.
Gardner was fired by Loomis Armored Inc. on June 17, 1994, three months after he had jumped out of his armored car outside of a bank near NorthTown Mall.
The driver-guard joined another Loomis employee, who already was out of the armored car, and another man. The three successfully subdued a would-be robber who was holding a knife to a woman’s throat.
Gardner was fired for violating Loomis work rules which say that armored-car drivers are not to leave their vehicles for any reason.
Last October, the judge denied a company motion to dismiss Gardner’s lawsuit.
“This case should be resolved outside this courtroom, outside the law,” Quackenbush said.
Loomis was held in “high esteem” in the Spokane community because of Gardner’s heroic acts, Quackenbush said. But that standing evaporated when the company fired the driver.
Citizens spat upon and kicked Loomis trucks after the firing.
If the federal judge takes the unusual step of sending the case to the state Supreme Court, the move would delay Gardner’s wrongful termination suit in U.S. District Court.
Gardner isn’t seeking reinstatement in his job, but he is asking for past and future financial losses, which aren’t specified but are in excess of $50,000.
The 38-year-old Spokane man, who now works as a laborer for a concrete company, wasn’t in court Thursday.
The Loomis attorney said the company’s work rules are intended to follow state laws requiring employers to provide safe workplaces.
The driver can activate a siren and call police on a two-way radio, in addition to protecting cash and securities on board.
The work rule was put in place after another Loomis guard was shot and killed when he left an armored car to intervene in a 1991 robbery in Seattle.
A rules violation is grounds for firing under an agreement between Loomis and Gardner’s union, Folan told Quackenbush.
“This isn’t a situation where a big, bad corporate employer” fired someone with insensitivity, Folan said.
The company asked the judge to toss out Gardner’s suit on the grounds he had violated work rules.
Folan bolstered his case by saying that Gardner had not filed a union grievance challenging his firing.
Gardner’s attorney, Paul Burns, countered by asking Quackenbush to rule on the issue of liability by the company for the termination.
The judge reserved ruling on those issues but did decide that federal labor law does not pre-empt Gardner from bringing the lawsuit.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo