St. Petersburg Times
Eight months after he was fired from Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., Paul Calden carried a gun into the cafeteria of the Rocky Point office building and opened fire, killing three people and seriously injuring two others. After the rampage, Calden killed himself.Wednesday, the families of Calden’s victims filed an unusual lawsuit, claiming a former employer suspected Calden might be capable of violence, but kept quiet.The target of the suit: Allstate Insurance Co., Calden’s employer before he went to work for Fireman’s Fund. The lawsuit says Allstate witnessed bizarre behavior in Calden but failed to alert future employers when it wrote Calden a letter of recommendation.

The suit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court by three victims’ wives and one of the injured workers, seeks unspecified damages from Allstate, where Calden worked in 1989 and 1990.

“We want to make a clear impression in the business community,” said Steven Yerrid, an attorney for two of the plaintiffs.

“If you know something’s wrong, don’t give the guy a pass into the corporate world.”

The lawsuit highlights the question of how much an employer should disclose about an employee who leaves a company. Many companies are hesitant to give out information for fear of being sued by the employee.

But in Florida, said Grant Petersen, a Tampa labor lawyer who represents management, an employer can provide truthful information about an ex-employee and be immune from a defamation lawsuit. Withholding information about an employee’s problems, however, can bring trouble.

“More and more employers who don’t give out accurate information are being dragged into negligent hiring lawsuits,” Petersen said.

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, a co-worker of Calden’s at Allstate saw a gun in Calden’s briefcase and reported it. Allstate offered Calden a severance package of money and benefits so he would leave the company, according to the suit.

The company then gave Calden a letter of recommendation, the suit says.

By late Wednesday, Allstate had not yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment, according to company spokesman Rob Hair.

The story of the Rocky Point shootings was played out last year in a segment of the ABC news show 20/20 that focused on workplace killing. An employee who worked with Calden at Allstate in the Tampa Bay area told 20/20 that he noticed the butt of a gun under a folder in Calden’s briefcase.

“I was scared to death of him at that point,” the employee told 20/20. According to the employee, a supervisor at Allstate was concerned that Calden might be capable of violence if fired.

After quitting Allstate, Calden was hired by Fireman’s Fund in 1990 but fired two years later after a series of confrontations with supervisors.

In January 1993, dressed in a business suit, Calden walked into the Island Center Cafe where Fireman’s Fund employees ate lunch. He pulled a 9mm semiautomatic handgun from beneath his jacket and approached a table of supervisors.

Within seconds, he shot five people. Two died at the scene and a third died at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Two others suffered serious wounds.

Calden, 33, drove to a Clearwater park and killed himself.
Annette Ciarlone, widow of Ronald Ciarlone; Mary Lynn Ditullio, widow of Frank Ditullio; Teresa Jerner, widow of Donald Jerner; and Marie MacMillan, who was injured in the shooting.

Jerner previously had filed a suit against Calden’s estate. Wednesday’s action also names the estate as a defendant. Experts say the suit is part of a growing trend in litigation.”Workplace violence is the focus point of a great deal of attention,” said New York labor lawyer Peter Panken, a member of the employee practices committee of the Society for Human Resource Management.

“The employer is in a double and quadruple bind,” Panken said. “They are put in a difficult position when somebody snaps. How are they (the employer) suppose to predict that?”