By Clark Kauffman, The Des Moines Register
DES MOINES, Iowa -- A security guard who worked lost his job last Christmas after joking about the CEO being kidnapped the way Clark Griswold's boss was abducted in the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
Gerald Chlebanowski, 54, was employed by Security Services USA, which provided contracted services for Principal Financial Group. Chlebanowski worked as a security guard at Principal's corporate headquarters in Des Moines.
According to state records, Chlebanowski was working at Principal on Dec. 14 when he made a joking comment to a Principal executive that referred to Principal CEO Larry D. Zimpleman and a scene in the 1989 "Christmas Vacation" movie.
The scene involves Frank Shirley, CEO of a fictional food-additive company, who is kidnapped at his home on Christmas Eve after deciding not to award annual bonuses to Griswold and other employees. Shirley is brought to Griswold's house, bound and gagged, to explain himself. Eventually, a SWAT team shows up, and the CEO decides to reinstate Griswold's bonus.
At a recent public hearing on his request for jobless benefits, Chlebanowski said he and the Principal executive had been discussing their weekend plans when Chlebanowski told the executive "you could always have your CEO kidnapped and then get your house broken into by a SWAT team."
According to Doug Stogdill, a manager with the security company, Chlebanowski's comment quickly went "up the chain of command" at Principal, which then asked the security firm to refrain from assigning Chlebanowski to Principal for any future security work.
"The comment he had made was to a vice president who reports directly to the CEO, and so the humor was lost on that person," Stogdill testified
Chlebanowski was given no other assignments and was without work through Christmas. On Dec. 28, he found a job with another company, and then applied for unemployment benefits for the 11 days he was without work. As part of that request, he wrote to Iowa Workforce Development and expressed regret that "one word taken out of context can have dramatic results for the negative. I did leave on good terms with my employer and I hope that things go well for them."
Administrative Law Judge Devon Lewis last month awarded Chlebanowski benefits, ruling that the former security guard had been effectively suspended or discharged after an "isolated incident of poor judgment" that didn't amount to workplace misconduct.
Principal spokeswoman Susan Houser said the company was unable to comment on matters involving either employees or non-employees of Principal.