Update: As information has developed, it is apparent that Flanagan filed an earlier lawsuit alleging race discrimination against a Florida television station in 2000. This appears to be the lawsuit that he refers to as having been settled out of court. The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Flanagan complained that he and another black employee were referred to as “monkeys” by a producer and that a supervisor told him he was an exception among blacks who are “lazy and do not take advantage of free money.” Flanagan’s former boss in Tallahassee is quoted as stating that Flanagan had “threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom.”
Legislation to stop workplace bullying came from an unusual source this week – a man who filmed his fatal shooting of a TV journalist and camera operator while they were conducting a live interview in Roanoke,Virginia.
Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, was an ex-reporter at the station, WDBJ7 TV, which employed two of his three victims, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, a camera operator. Professionally known as Bryce Williams, Flanagan was fired after about a year in 2013 and escorted out of the building by police, reportedly over angry outbursts.
In a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC, Flanagan, who was gay and African-American, claims he was bullied and the victim of racism and homophobia during his year at the station. The case was dismissed by a judge in July 2014.
“I don’t need to deal with workplace bullies anymore,” wrote Flanagan, “THAT is what lawmakers need to focus on.”
Flanagan killed himself about five hours after the murders – which he filmed using his telephone camera and posted on Twitter. He fatally shot himself after crashing his car while fleeing police.
Obviously a deeply disturbed man, Flanagan also states the horrific attack on Parker and Ward was intended to avenge the Charleston shootings earlier this year in which a white gunman killed nine parishioners at an African-American church.
Was He Bullied?
Whether Flanagan was bullied (or a bully) raises questions about how employers should deal with bullying, harassment and problem employees. Did his employers offer staff diversity training or provide Flanagan with the opportunity for coaching or psychological help? Could the tragic shootings have been averted?
The BBC quotes Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ7’s general manager, as describing Flanagan as unhappy, difficult to work with and always “looking out for people to say things he could take offence to.”
Flanagan admits that he made mistakes while employed by WDBJ-7, adding that he “should not have been so curt” with photographers in Roanoke ” but you know why I was? The damn news director was a micromanaging tyrant!!”
The Daily Beast quotes court documents in which the news director states that police were called to escort Flanagan out of the building after he was fired because Flanagan would not leave voluntarily. He said Flanagan’s ranting alarmed station employees, some of whom took shelter in a locked office, and that Flanagan handed him a small wooden cross and said, “You’ll need this.”
After leaving the station Flanagan said he was offered a job at a TV station in Pennsylvania but that WDBJ7 persuaded the Pennsylvania station to rescind the offer.
Flanagan seems to have held a personal grudge against Parker and Ward. In tweets, he wrote that Ward “went to HR after only working with me one time… the chief photog told his troops to [record video of] me if they saw me doing something wrong. ” He also claims Ward, who was then an intern, made a racist comment.
In his manifesto, Flanagan recalled a day after he left the courthouse “feeling overwhelmed… confused… even some fear. But by golly I knew I HAD to fight. … They truly f—-d with my life and caused an awful chain of events.” He said he even killed his cats in a forest “because of them.”
Flanagan also shot the chairperson of the local Chamber of Commerce, who was being interviewed by Parker about a tourist attraction. She survived.
Whether or not workplace bullying was a factor in this case, it is a precipitating factor in many other cases of workplace violence. In fact, workplace bullying is considered in itself to be a form of workplace violence. Nevertheless, workplace bullying is widely ignored in the United States, despite the fact that many other industrialized countries have adopted laws and regulations to address the problem. Anti-bullying advocates have been working for more than a decade in the United States to address the problem of workplace bullying.