ILNews

Justices rule on unemployment benefit cases

Michael W. Hoskins
June 2, 2010
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The Indiana Supreme Court says an employer isn’t allowed to deny someone unemployment benefits if they are fired for absenteeism that’s beyond their control without considering that worker’s overall conduct and attendance.

But that holding only applies to actions undertaken prior to last year’s revisions to the Indiana Unemployment Compensation Act. Revisions lawmakers made last year effectively allow employers to discharge someone who knowingly violates a no-fault attendance policy, whether it’s their fault or not.

Issuing a decision late Tuesday in John D. Giovanoni II v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and Clarian Health Partners, No. 93S02-0907-EX-311, the justices reversed a decision by the state review board. A second opinion in the case of Lisa M. Beckingham v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and Cenveo Corporation, No. 93S02-0907-EX-308, applied the same holding and reversed the decision, but remanded it for additional fact-finding as it wasn’t as clear as the Giovanoni case. Justice Frank Sullivan authored both.

Both Beckingham and Giovanoni were fired from their jobs as a result of multiple excused absences, and the review board determined both weren’t eligible to receive unemployment benefits because the employer “no-fault” attendance policies were valid and enforced.

On appeal, a divided Court of Appeals panel last year in Giovanoni ruled that the man wasn’t discharged for just cause and should have received benefits – holding that precedent from 1984 provided a sounder model for determining eligibility for unemployment benefits when the employee is fired for attendance issues. Judge Elaine Brown dissented. In Beckingham, an appellate panel majority affirmed her dismissal but Judge Edward Najam dissented and said he would have followed the reasoning in Giovanoni.

Analyzing the conflicting appellate caselaw on this issue and interpreting state law, the justices also looked to how other states handle this no-fault attendance policy issue. Specifically, the high court relied on the legislative language that says the act should “provide for payment of benefits to persons unemployed through no fault of their own.”

“Thus, the law will not countenance the denial of unemployment compensation under a ‘no-fault’ attendance policy unless a determination is made for just cause in a way that gives full power and effect to the Legislature’s intent,” Justice Sullivan wrote. “And just cause, as it relates to absenteeism, demands an individualized analysis of whether the employee violated the policy through no fault of his or her own.”

Justice Brent Dickson wrote a concurring opinion in Giovanoni and Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard joined him in clarifying that this holding doesn’t apply to the General Assembly’s revisions of state statute last year. They expressed a concern that it could be interpreted to apply to all of the cases, regardless of the changes and despite a majority footnote recognizing that point.

“While footnote 3 in today’s opinion declares ‘We express no opinion as to the statute as amended,’ I am concerned that readers may nevertheless mistakenly apply the majority’s reasoning to future cases construing the 2009 amendments,” he wrote. “These recent changes clearly express the legislature’s intention to include within ‘Discharge for just cause’ a discharge for a knowing violation of a proper attendance rule that includes the application to absences without employee fault. While prior law, applicable here to Giovanoni, precludes a no-fault attendance policy, such result will not be required under current law.”

Justice Dickson dissented in Beckingham, believing the Court of Appeals was correct in affirming the review board’s determination that she was discharged for just cause and not entitled to unemployment benefits.

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  1. "So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)" Well, you know, we're just following in the footsteps of our founders who raped women, raped slaves, raped children, maimed immigrants, sold children, stole property, broke promises, broke apart families, killed natives... You know, good God fearing down home Christian folk! :/

  2. Who gives a rats behind about all the fluffy ranking nonsense. What students having to pay off debt need to know is that all schools aren't created equal and students from many schools don't have a snowball's chance of getting a decent paying job straight out of law school. Their lowly ranked lawschool won't tell them that though. When schools start honestly (accurately) reporting *those numbers, things will get interesting real quick, and the looks on student's faces will be priceless!

  3. Whilst it may be true that Judges and Justices enjoy such freedom of time and effort, it certainly does not hold true for the average working person. To say that one must 1) take a day or a half day off work every 3 months, 2) gather a list of information including recent photographs, and 3) set up a time that is convenient for the local sheriff or other such office to complete the registry is more than a bit near-sighted. This may be procedural, and hence, in the near-sighted minds of the court, not 'punishment,' but it is in fact 'punishment.' The local sheriffs probably feel a little punished too by the overwork. Registries serve to punish the offender whilst simultaneously providing the public at large with a false sense of security. The false sense of security is dangerous to the public who may not exercise due diligence by thinking there are no offenders in their locale. In fact, the registry only informs them of those who have been convicted.

  4. Unfortunately, the court doesn't understand the difference between ebidta and adjusted ebidta as they clearly got the ruling wrong based on their misunderstanding

  5. A common refrain in the comments on this website comes from people who cannot locate attorneys willing put justice over retainers. At the same time the judiciary threatens to make pro bono work mandatory, seemingly noting the same concern. But what happens to attorneys who have the chumptzah to threatened the legal status quo in Indiana? Ask Gary Welch, ask Paul Ogden, ask me. Speak truth to power, suffer horrendously accordingly. No wonder Hoosier attorneys who want to keep in good graces merely chase the dollars ... the powers that be have no concerns as to those who are ever for sale to the highest bidder ... for those even willing to compromise for $$$ never allow either justice or constitutionality to cause them to stand up to injustice or unconstitutionality. And the bad apples in the Hoosier barrel, like this one, just keep rotting.

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