Dixon v. CEC Entertainment, Inc. d/b/a Chuck E. Cheese, 2008 WL 2986422 (App. Div., August 6, 2008) – In this case, the Court affirmed a jury’s decision not to award punitive damages against the employer, where the employee attacked a patron with a 10-inch knife following an argument, after which his co-workers retrieved and tried to dispose of the knife. Plaintiff, the victim of the attack, claimed the employer should be punished for ignoring the employee’s “FEAR ME” tattoo, which violated company policy; for refusing to make him remove it promptly; and for hiring him without references and without obtaining a social security number. He further claimed the employer should be punished for “rewarding” its employees for concealing evidence by continuing to employ them.
The Court agreed with the jury that punitive damages were not warranted because the employee had never before exhibited any violent or threatening behavior, had no criminal history, and covered the tattoo when at his work station in the kitchen of the restaurant. It also found there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate reckless disregard of a risk to its patrons when the employer failed to check references or obtain a social security number. As to the concealment of evidence, the Court agreed there was no reasonable basis to find the employer ratified this conduct, where the employees were clearly acting outside of their employment by hiding the weapon, and the employer had no knowledge of it.
Note: This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.