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Dispatcher fired after firecracker incident loses unemployment appeal

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An appeals court panel Thursday affirmed denial of unemployment benefits for a Starke County sheriff’s dispatcher who took time off work after a firecracker exploded behind her at work and she was diagnosed with hearing loss, vertigo and tinnitus.

But after dispatcher Gina Albright took sick days, vacation time and bereavement leave, she failed to report to work or call to notify the office that she wouldn’t be in, after which she was fired. The Department of Workforce Development denied unemployment benefits, ruling Albright was fired for cause.

The Court of Appeals agreed in Gina Albright v. Review Board of the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development and the Starke County Sheriff's Dept., 93A02-1301-EX-81.  The panel noted that while Albright had a diagnosed medical condition due to the incident at work, her doctor had cleared her to work.
 
The record shows Albright was one of two dispatchers who worked 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shifts, four days on and four days off, to cover the northwest Indiana county’s emergency communication services, and authorities said her failure to report to work or call in to report an absence was the first time such an instance had occurred.

The court used the unique responsibilities of dispatchers to set a higher standard for those professionals.

“One of the major objectives of a 911 dispatcher’s duties is to assist people in an emergency. As such, a functioning dispatcher’s office is essential to public safety. There must be a sufficient number of dispatchers on the job so that emergencies are responded to in a timely manner. We conclude that dispatchers are an appropriately distinct class upon which to assess the uniform enforcement of the unexcused, unreported absence policy,” Judge Terry Crone wrote in a unanimous opinion joined by Judges Michael Barnes and Rudy Pyle III.

The opinion also records in a footnote a change in case captions for appeals from the Department of Workforce Development – names, rather than initials, will be used unless an affirmative request for confidentiality is made as outlined in Recker v. Review Board, 958 N.E.2d 1136, 1138 n.4 (Ind. 2011).





 

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