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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues