Every year is filled with stories of employees who -- to put it diplomatically -- didn't think before acting. And 2011 was no exception.
Whether it was the Chick-fil-A cashier in Southern California who substituted derogatory words for two Asian customers' real names on their receipts or the Indonesian politician caught watching porn during a session of parliament or the Pennsylvania man who tainted co-workers yogurt with his own semen, there was no lack of shortsightedness on the part of workers.
To recognize workers' misdeeds, we offer these 11 stories of employee stupidity, chosen by our editors as some of the worst faux pas of 2011:
Um, not really. Elementary school gym teacher Jennifer Gomes just didn't want to go to work and opted to instead leave a, ahem, volatile note warning of a bomb at the main entrance of Escuela de Guadalupe school in northwest Denver. As KUSA-TV reported in October, Gomes was suspended from her job and charged with one count of false reporting of explosives, a felony. Perhaps next time, she'll just take a personal day.
He Couldn't Be Bought With Mere Apples
Staying with the education theme, we turn to Charlotte County, Fla., where high school teacher Jeff Spires was suspended in October for soliciting money from his students. According to a school investigation, Spires told his class to staple or paperclip cash to the back of their quizzes if they wanted to sweeten their grades, WZVN-TV reported last month. After the investigation, which reportedly revealed one junior paying as much as $70 to boost his grade to a B from a C, Spires resigned. When asked why he did it, Spires reportedly replied, "That's what I don't know, why."
Flying Isn't The Only Way To Get High
In one of the year's more noteworthy work-related items, more than three dozen employees at a Boeing Co. plant near Philadelphia were arrested for illegally selling prescription drugs, including oxycodone and Xanax. Federal authorities were tipped off to the unlawful activity by the aircraft maker after an internal investigation, The Associated Press reported in September. For the workers, it appears, making helicopters wasn't their favorite way of getting high.
Manager Gets It Backward
A Taco Bell manager in California may have been trying to "think outside the bun," but she got herself into legal hot water after an employee accused her of running a Ponzi scheme at a Taco Bell franchise in Goleta, near Santa Barbara. The plan required employees to surrender $100 each payday, Courthouse News Service reported in October. But assistant manager Jeorgina Cervantes De Gomez grew tired of the scheme, refused to pay up and soon found herself on the unemployment line. So Gomez sued the manager, Doralinda Vargas, seeking back wages and damages. Perhaps someone needs to enlighten Vargas that it's employees who get paid by management, not the other way around.
Music Hath Charms To Soothe The Savage Thief?
In one of the year's grimmer examples of stupidity, Wisconsin cemetery worker Steven Conard was accused of stealing a guitar from a casket, Smoking Gun reported in September. Conard, a musician and band member, at first denied stealing the instrument, a prized Fender Telecaster that had been spied by a co-worker "in plain view" in Conard's house. When pressed by police, however, Conard relented and handed the stolen instrument over. "This isn't something I normally do," Conard reportedly said. "I just have a respect for fine musical instruments."
TSA Agent Gets 'Freaky'
Air travel for many Americans is a frustrating experience these days, fraught with small infringements on flyers' dignity, with perhaps no better example than what happened to Jill Filipovic, a lawyer and feminist blogger who flew from Newark, N.J., recently. Upon arrival in Dublin, she discovered a standard inspection tag in her luggage left by a Transportation Security Administration agent -- except this tag had scrawled along its side: "GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL." The agent apparently had discovered the author's vibrator. Filipovic, who blogged about the incident, filed a complaint with the TSA, which responded in a statement that it "takes all allegations of inappropriate conduct seriously and is investigating the claim" and promised "appropriate disciplinary action."
At Drop-Off, Driver Drops The Ball
Key to being a successful bus driver is getting your passengers where they need to be. That's why is was particularly alarming last summer when an unidentified school bus driver for suburban Chicago-based Alpha School Bus Co. failed to notice that a 19-year-old student with Down syndrome had fallen asleep on the way to school, the Chicago Tribune reported. Once the company realized the student hadn't been dropped off, "we immediately returned the child to school and contacted school officials," regional manager Caprice Sanfratello said at the time. Sanfratello called the incident unacceptable and noted that state law requires bus operators to inspect the bus to insure that no students remain on board after completing a route to prevent precisely this kind of incident. It perhaps unsurprising then that the bus driver in question was immediately terminated.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
Any fan of courtroom dramas knows that maintaining courtroom decorum is an integral part of a judge's job. So it should have come as little surprise to Matthew Bartlett, a waiter who sat in on the Casey Anthony murder trial last spring, that a judge took exception to Bartlett shooting "the bird" to the prosecutor in the case. Chief Judge Belvin Perry wasn't amused by the profane gesture, and had Bartlett, who worked at a T.G.I. Fridays in Orlando, Fla., immediately arrested for criminal contempt, WESH-TV reported. When asked what a raised middle finger represents Bartlett told the judge, "the F-word." He then apologized, saying, "it was just a stupid thing I did." We agree.
Urine-Soaked Employee Relieved of Job
Adherers to urine therapy believe that the byproduct secreted by the kidneys can be used to cure all manner of ailments -- both inside and outside the body. Museum employee Alfred Zoppelt didn't ingest his own urine but he did routinely used it to wash his hands and face. That was a bit much for management at the Belvedere, a castle in Vienna with a major art collection, which employed Zoppelt -- until last summer. That's when Zoppelt was let go, even though his adherance to urine therapy was, as Zoppelt put it, "never a problem." The museum declined to comment on Zoppelt's dismissal except to confirm that he indeed was no longer a Belvedere employee.
And Now For No. 2
Many people likely give little thought about where postal delivery workers relieve themselves on their daily routes. But Portland, Ore.,-resident Don Derfler became very aware last spring after he witnessed a postal worker defecating on a neighbor's lawn. Derfler, who said that he noticed the postal worker acting strangely, took photos of the incident. "To come on to our property and to defecate -- it's just wrong," Derfler told KATU-TV. The Postal Service conducted a probe and determined the offending employee could keep his job but would be assigned a different route. We hope it's one with a public toilet along the way.
All We Can Say Is 'Ouch!'
Lastly, from our "You Must Be Kidding!" department, we give you Stuart Keen, a 54-year-old carpenter in Wantage, England, who last summer mistook his penis for a piece of wood and accidentally cut it off while working with a saw. "This was an unfortunate accident, but these things happen all the time to people in his profession," Keen's mother, Edna, told The Sunday Telegraph. Fortunately for Keen, surgeons were able to reattach the severed member. No word yet on whether Keen has since changed professions.
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