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Fired IDEM employee entitled to unemployment benefits

December 19, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals found a 25-year state employee did not breach a duty reasonably owed to her employer when she failed to meet monthly quotas because she thoroughly reviewed cases instead of quickly approving expenses.  

The appeals court ruled Friday that the review board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development erred when it denied Suzanne E. Esserman’s claim for unemployment benefits after finding she was discharged for just cause. Esserman worked for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management from February 1989 until her employment was terminated in January 2014. When she was fired, she was a senior environmental manager 1 within the Excess Liability Trust Fund section, which reviewed claims submitted by owners and operators who had underground storage tanks that required remediation and cleanup. The ELTF program reimbursed for specific costs incurred in those cleanups.

Beginning in June 2013, IDEM instituted quota requirements for employees. For several months, Esserman did not meet her quota because she performed in-depth reviews of files and found other employees signed off on overcharges. She believed it was important to save the department money, but the department instead fired her for failure to meet work expectations.

Esserman sought unemployment benefits, but a deputy from the DWD, an administrative law judge, and the review board all found that IDEM terminated her for just cause.

“We note that there will always be a balance between efficiency and thoroughness in administering programs such as the ELTF program. Nevertheless, in addition to controlling administrative costs, it is in the interest of Employer to limit improper distributions for cleanup costs by ensuring that claims are processed accurately and that substantial overpayments exhausting limited resources are not authorized by reviewers and quality control reviewers,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote in Suzanne E. Esserman v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and Indiana Department of Environmental Management, 93A02-1406-EX-441.

The judges also noted that many of the months Esserman didn’t meet her quotas were when she was out on medical leave of absence.

“Additionally, we cannot say that a reasonable employee would understand that attempting to process claims accurately leading to possibly significant savings to the ELTF, and especially considering that the employee would have been held responsible for inaccurate payments of claims or held liable or discharged for knowingly authorizing overpayments, would be considered a violation of a duty reasonably owed to Employer for the purpose of being ineligible for unemployment benefits,” Brown continued.

IDEM did not meet its burden of establishing Esserman breached a duty reasonably owed to it. She is entitled to benefits under her claim.
 

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