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Fired worker finds Ex-lax doesn't pay

Sunday, April 22, 2001

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Here's a nice touch: One day last year, Raymond Jastrzab brought a dozen brownies to the Johnstown metals plant where he worked. He planned to share them.

It wasn't a recipe clipped from the pages of Good Housekeeping.

The brownies were laced with Ex-lax.

Jastrzab figured he was laying a trap for the thief who for six months had been pilfering his lunches from the common refrigerator at the OMG Americas Inc. plant.

When Jastrzab walked into the lunchroom that afternoon, there sat his boss, snacking on the brownies.

Jastrzab did one good turn. He reached into the refrigerator, snatched the rest of the batch and tossed them out. But the deed was done. In short order, according to court records, foreman John Anthony's gastrointestinal works were at war.

Jastrzab, a metal worker, was fired about two weeks later, after his recipe for the brownies was discovered.

From this nasty episode sprang a question for the Pennsylvania courts: Does an employee who's sacked for doctoring brownies deserve unemployment compensation?

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel last week said he didn't, overturning a decision by an Unemployment Compensation Appeal Board.

Tainting the brownies "essentially amounted to an assault on a co-worker, as if a fight had taken place," Senior Judge Charles Mirarchi Jr. wrote in the opinion. "We have consistently held that assaults on other employees and violent behavior constitute willful misconduct."

For that reason, the court decided, Jastrzab gets no unemployment compensation.

OMG ordered employees not to talk about the ruling, and Jastrzab could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But the court opinion states that Jastrzab readily admitted coming to work Jan. 26, 2000, with a dozen brownies laced with Ex-lax.

"You decided to put laxatives into brownies to have unknown recipients eat them?" Jastrzab was asked in an unemployment compensation hearing cited in the court opinion.

"Yes," he said.

"Not knowing what effect medically or physically it could have on someone?" the questioner asked.

"Absolutely," Jastrzab replied.

Though his tactics were "novel," the court said, they also were dangerous.

Still unclear is whether Anthony grabbed the treated treats on his own, or if somebody else put them on the lunchroom table. OMG is a plant with 100 employees.

When Jastrzab happened in and saw Anthony eating a few of the brownies, he kept quiet. Two of Jastrzab's co-workers, wise to the Ex-lax scheme and worried that Anthony might get sick, later told the foreman.

By that time, Anthony was well on his way to a pain period. In testimony to a state hearing board, he said that he suffered diarrhea, cramps and dehydration because of the brownies.



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