Should Publix have warned victim that accused shooter was fired?

7:44 PM, Jun 18, 2012   |    comments
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Arunya Rouch sits in court during jury selection of her murder trial.
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TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. - The story of former Publix employee Arunya Rouch has been followed heavily in the media over the last several years.

Rouch was a sushi preparer in the Tarpon Springs store and, by all accounts, appeared to be a good worker. The 44-year-old arrived early for her shift, rarely took sick days, and was extremely focused on her work, according to family and friends.

However, the Thailand native claims her co-worker, Greg Janowski, called her nasty names and harassed her. The two were known to fight often.

In fact, at one point, a manager claims that he saw Rouch make a death threat against Janowski.

The manager testified in court, "That's when the defendant said 'I'll kill you!' Janowski said 'Oh, now you're threatening me?'  Then, the defendant walked back toward him and said 'Where I come from, this is what we do to people like you,' and did the throat slash."

Rouch was also found to be working "off the clock" at her sushi station, which is against Publix policy. 

Her attorney, George Tragos, claims that Rouch was simply a dedicated employee and wanted to get a jump-start on the day. It is her nature, he said, to arrive early and start working.

However, it is considered against the rules with the Publix corporation to work prior to or after a scheduled shift. The company considers it cause for termination.

Rouch's managers were alerted by her colleagues, including Janowski, about the time she spent off the clock.

On March 30, 2010, Rouch was brought into a manager's office and fired. Just five hours later, Rouch returned to the store looking for Janowski, cops say. Detectives maintain that she was on a mission for murder.

Janowski was said to be sitting in his car outside the store, enjoying his morning coffee and a cigarette, which was his daily routine, friends say.

Rouch drove the store, police claim, and gunned down Janowski in the parking lot as he sat in his car. "She shot him point blank," said one officer.

Although Rouch claims that Janowski harassed her and used racial slurs like "ch-nk," she never reported it.

According to records, she never filed a complaint. No one knew just how unhappy she was. And, when she got fired, the victim was never given a heads up about her termination.

"As an employee, in terms of rights, you don't have a right to know when others are fired. Most employers do have internal harassment policies and Publix has a very good one. I've read it before," said labor and employment lawyer Kevin Johnson, who has been practicing for more than 18 years after graduating from law school at the University of Florida.

Johnson is a law firm partner for Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing in downtown Tampa and has handled thousands of cases. He says the best advice for employees who feel threatened is to tell someone.

In fact, he says, do it right away and don't wait.

If employers don't know what is going on, Johnson maintains, they can't take action to help protect anyone. In Johnson's practice, attorneys deal mainly with restaurants and hospitals, he says.

Johnson says, "I think if he really felt threatened, he wouldn't have been in his car knowing that she had just been fired. So, sometimes these things just come out of the blue and you can't reasonably anticipate that this is the person who will go home and get a gun and take matters into her own hands."

The family of Greg Janowski filed suit against Publix, saying the company didn't do enough to protect the father of four and warn him about Rouch's firing. High-profile defense attorney Barry Cohen is representing the family.

So, should Publix have alerted him that Rouch was let go, even though normally that information is kept under wraps? Publix spokesperson Shannon Patten had this to say about employees being alerted about a colleague's firing. "The only folks involved are the ones in the investigation. At Publix, we have an open door policy where we encourage any associate to talk to their supervisor about any issue they have. We are not insensitive to anybody's feeling toward this."

The trial resumes Tuesday morning in Pinellas County, where the state is expected to rest after playing a chronological version of a surveillance tape compilation from 30 cameras inside the store on the day of the shooting, some of it never seen before.

Then, defense attorney George Tragos is expected to begin calling witnesses to testify about Rouch's mental condition on the day of the shooting. They claim she was "fragile" and not mentally stable when the shooting took place.

Photo Gallery: Pictures from the Publix shooting scene

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