COLUMBUS, Ga. (CN) – Pfizer was within its rights when it fired a troublemaking sales representative who did not return to work after taking paid leave and company-ordered counseling in connection to a threatening, obscenity-laced rant he sent to the company’s top executives, the FBI and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Richard Dehaan’s relationship with the company soured after the first 14 years of his employment, during which time he had been promoted to district manager. Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, employs over 100,000 people worldwide.
After fielding complaints from Deehan’s subordinates, Pfizer demoted him and let him transfer to the company’s office in Columbus, Ga.. But turbulence followed Dehaan east as he was written up repeatedly for disrespecting his co-workers and supervisors.
In November 2007, after more than 20 years with the company, Dehaan fired off an e-mail to Pfizer CEO Jeffery Williams, an attorney in Pfizer’s corporate compliance group, an FBI agent, Nancy Pelosi and others.
“Code Blue,” the subject heading of Dehaan’s 139-page e-mail, alludes to the hospital term used to describe a dying patient. Dehaan later said that the e-mail catalogs the body of his complaints against Pfizer dating back to 1993. The e-mail accuses Pfizer of having engaged in criminal activity, and also includes various vague threats and obscenities, such as “This is WAR,” “you will pay – GOT THAT!” and “Go F.. Yourself!”
Following the e-mail incident, Pfizer asked Dehaan to enroll in counseling through the company’s colleague-assistance program and placed him on leave with full pay and benefits. Even after twice delaying the date Pfizer ordered Dehaan to resume work, including more than two weeks of vacation time, Dehaan steadfastly refused to return to work.
Dehaan insisted that Pfizer had not completed a compliance investigation and that he could no longer work with Pfizer employees who allegedly engaged in criminal activities. Pfizer responded by stating that Dehaan had abandoned his job by failing to return to work by May 21, 2008 as directed.
Dehaan filed suit pro se in the Superior Court of Muscogee County, originally asserting claims for race, sex and national origin discrimination. After hiring an attorney, Dehaan abandoned the discrimination claims and based his case solely on the termination of his employment by Pfizer. He says the company retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination against other female and minority employees.
The “Code Blue” e-mail is considered a statutorily protected activity, but U.S. District Judge Clay Land ruled that Dehaan failed to establish a causal link between the e-mail and his termination.
Land granted summary judgment to Pfizer on Feb. 16, finding that Dehaan failed to provide no direct evidence of retaliation.
Although Dehaan claimed that he conducted “non-field[-]related duties” on the day he was expected to return to work, the court concluded that Pfizer had given Dehaan clear instructions about his duties and fired him because he had abandoned his job.