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Judge: School corp.’s inattentiveness doesn’t support benefits reversal

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was split Wednesday over whether a notice sent regarding a hearing on unemployment benefits required reversing the grant of benefits because the employer found the notice confusing.

The majority in Hamilton Heights School Corp. v. Review Board of the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development and Sherri K. Stepp, and The Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development, 93A02-1210-EX-795, reversed the decision by the Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to grant Sherri Stepp unemployment benefits. Stepp worked as a custodian for Hamilton Heights School Corp. when she was fired after an on-the-job argument with a co-worker.

An administrative law judge, through a telephone hearing in July 2012, affirmed that Stepp was ineligible for benefits. Stepp appealed to the review board, which ordered a new hearing because the July hearing was “inadvertently destroyed” before the board could review the ALJ’s decision. The notice sent for the August hearing indicated it would be held in person, but the notice and attached acknowledgement sheet and instructions also included conflicting information that suggested the hearing would be held by telephone.

The school corporation did not show up in person and tried to call in. The ALJ found that Stepp was entitled to benefits because the school corporation did not participate in the hearing.

“Where, as is the case here, a prior hearing was held telephonically and no party has requested an in-person hearing, the conflicting nature of the information contained in these documents and instructions could lead a reasonable person to believe that the hearing would be conducted telephonically,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

“It is especially troublesome that a party could participate in and be successful following a hearing, have that hearing vacated through no fault of its own, be prepared for and willing to participate in a subsequent hearing, and attempt to contact the ALJ when not contacted for the hearing, only to have a ruling issued against it for failure to participate.”

Bradford and Judge Elaine Brown reversed and remanded for a hearing on the merits.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented, pointing to inattentiveness on the part of the school corporation to assume the August hearing would be held by phone.

“We are therefore left with the following legal precedent: an employer is denied due process by failing to participate at an unemployment compensation hearing when such failure is caused by a) the employer’s reliance on procedures followed at a prior hearing and b) its confusion resulting from the language contained in the notice of a subsequent hearing,” Riley wrote, referring to the majority’s decision. “However, I am constrained to find a simple failure to read tantamount to a due process violation.”

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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