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. 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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