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Justices uphold denial of benefits for fired employee

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Indiana Justice Steven David authored a unanimous opinion Wednesday in which the court held “when the facts of a case support more than one statutory ground for discharge, we are not confined to narrowly review the [Indiana Department of Workforce Development] Review Board’s decision when the facts point to the Review Board’s ultimately correct conclusion.”

In J.M. v. Review Board of the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development and T.C., 93S02-1203-EX-138, the Supreme Court upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to J.M., a former employee in an unnamed county surveyor’s office. J.M. sought to take a class during work hours and make up the time later by working through lunch and working later hours. His supervisor told J.M. that he could take the class, but he would have to use vacation time instead, as that has been the office policy.

The employee handbook also states an employee can face discipline for “disobeying a reasonable order … or to comply with written or verbal instructions.”

J.M. took the class anyway, and did not log all missed hours with personal time. He instead worked through a lunch and came in early sometimes. He was fired in September 2010.

His unemployment claim was initially denied, but an administrative law judge reversed. The county appealed, and the review board reversed, finding J.M. violated the direction from his supervisor as well as the policy in the handbook. The Court of Appeals then reversed the board.

The justices affirmed the review board. The board found J.M. was discharged for just cause based on I.C. 22-4-15-1(d)(2) – “knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule of an employer, including a rule regarding attendance.” The COA found J.M. did not violate (d)(2), but did not consider (d)(5) – “refusing to obey instructions” – because it was not named in the conclusions of law by the review board. Subsection (d)(5) mirrors the policy in the handbook.

The Supreme Court did not agree with the lower appellate court that it could not affirm a just cause finding on a different ground than one cited by the review board. David pointed out that the findings of fact state that the project manager told J.M. that he could miss work, but that policy would not allow him to make up the time. The findings of basic fact are within the scope of the substantial-evidence standard of review, the justices held.

“We may rely on a different statutory ground of a just cause finding than the one relied upon by the Review Board when, as here, the Review Board’s findings of fact clearly establish the alternate subsection’s applicability. As such, we affirm the Review Board under Indiana Code section 22-4-15-1(d)(5), that J.M. refused to obey instructions, and was thus fired for just cause,” he wrote.
 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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