Bixler v. Concentra Health Services, UIA – 12.142

Bixler v. Concentra Health Services, UIA
Digest No. 12.142

Sections 421.29(1)(m) and 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Bixler v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., Wayne Circuit Court, No. 11-009212-AE

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Barbara Bixler
Employer: Concentra Health Services, Inc.
Docket no.: 11-009212-AE
Date of decision: January 24, 2012

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HOLDING: The burden of proof on the employer to prove the the Claimant ineligible under 29(1) prevents the ALJ from “questioning the [Claimant] into proving the case against her, effectively forcing her to carry the burden of proof against herself.” Although the ALJ has “a duty to decide benefits regardless of the action or inaction of the employer”, and may independently question witnesses, such questioning must not be “used as a tool to circumvent the requirement that the employer carry the burden of proof”.

FACTS: Claimant smoked a small amount of marijuana for the first time in 35 years. One and a half days later, she was pulled for a random drug screening at her job as a receptionist for Concentra. She failed the drug test and was subsequently terminated. Concentra fired her over the phone and she stated at trial that the reason given was the positive drug test. She then received 25 of 26 available unemployment insurance payments before the UIA sued to declare her ineligible and for restitution totaling $7,025. Concentra failed to appear at the hearing. At the ALJ level, the employer’s side offered no evidence of the positive drug test. During questioning, however, after objections, Claimant answered that she remembered seeing the positive test, and that she assumed, logically, that it was caused by her drug use two days prior. Relying on this evidence, the ALJ found her ineligible, but ruled that UIA was not entitled to restitution because it had been notified of her potential ineligibility five months before it ceased to pay her benefits. On appeal, the Board of Review upheld Claimant’s ineligibility but reversed on the restitution because the agency’s continuance of payments was due to their high volume at that time and not due to an administrative error. Claimant appealed to the Circuit Court of Wayne County.

DECISION: The Board of Review decision is reversed and Claimant is entitled to unemployment insurance benefits.

RATIONALE: The burden of proof on the employer to demonstrate a 29(1) defense cannot be circumvented by the special rule allowing ALJs to question witnesses and to make eligibility determinations in the absence of employer intervention. Thus the burden of proof rule trumps the special ALJ questioning rule. The alternative outcome would have been that the rule allowing ALJs to independently question Claimants overrides the burden of proof rule. Under this hierarchy of rules, however, “the employer would never have to appear in a drug test case”. The temptation to make the witness admit to her drug use may be motivated by a legitimate concern for the public interest, since the people have decided, via the legislature that those fired for drug use are ineligible for benefits. However, the same public also decided that the burden of demonstrating 29(1) defenses falls on the employer.

The court also noted that the burden shifting is especially “troublesome when it comes to ascertaining whether the test was administered in discriminatory manner”. Since the employer made no appearance, and thus gave no account as to how the test was administered, the Claimant had no means to challenge the test as discriminatory. Note that the test being non-discriminatory is a condition of the employer’s 29(1)(m) defense, not a counter attack available to claimants. Thus a drug tests non-discriminatory status is subject to the employer’s burden of proof. The ALJ may have assumed that, because we know that the Claimant in this case had, in fact, used drugs, the test couldn’t have been discriminatory, because it was accurate. Since part of the administration of drug tests is the selection of employees to take the test, accuracy of the result is not sufficient to show that the test was not administered discriminatorily. Again, without the employer offering some account of the test’s administration, the Claimant had no real opportunity to challenge it on those grounds. As the court stated “She could not cross examine an empty chair.”

Digest Author: James Fahringer, Michigan Law, Class of 2018
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016

Ducharme v Providence Hospital – 12.155

Ducharme v Providence Hospital
Digest no. 12.155

Section 29(1)(b)

Cite as: Ducharme v Providence Hosp, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued March 7, 2006 (Docket No. 257231).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Joanne H. Ducharme
Employer: Providence Hospital
Docket no.: 03-051271-AE
Date of decision: March 7, 2006

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COURT OF APPEALS HOLDING: After previously demonstrating the ability to conform to an employer’s standards, a claimant’s termination for excessive absences may constitute disqualifying misconduct when the employer has no reasonable way to discover the relevant facts behind the absences and no legitimate explanation is offered by the claimant.

FACTS: Claimant is slightly mentally retarded and worked for Employer for 22 years. Claimant received about 26 unexcused absences over a five-month period, and Employer met with Claimant and her family to discuss the ramifications of accumulating more unexcused absences. Employer made an effort to work with Claimant before ultimately releasing her due to her long tenure with the company, however after accumulating four additional unexcused absences over a two-month period, Claimant was terminated. Claimant’s brother and legal guardian testified that Claimant sometimes became confused about her work schedule, and that most absences were due to a breathing problem Claimant suffers from. A reason for the final four unexcused absences was not provided.

After a determination that Claimant was not disqualified due to misconduct, the ALJ reversed, finding the evidence insufficient to conclude Claimant’s retardation was the cause of her attendance infractions. A split Board of Review affirmed, the dissent instead opining that Claimant’s actions were not “wanton or willful disregard” of Employer’s interests, but instead due to “inability or incapacity.”

DECISION: The decision of the Circuit Court affirming Claimant’s disqualification from benefits due to misconduct is affirmed as the court did not clearly err in finding the Board of Review’s decision was supported by the evidence and not contrary to law.

RATIONALE: It is generally the employer’s burden to demonstrate disqualification for benefits. In the case of termination for excessive absences, disqualifying misconduct must be shown with evidence that the absences were not beyond the employee’s control or otherwise with good cause. However, if the relevant facts are entirely in the hands of the claimant and for all practical purposes cannot be discovered by the employer, the claimant bears the burden to provide a legitimate explanation for the absences.

Here, reasonable minds could differ as to whether Claimant provided sufficient evidence to provide a legitimate explanation for her absences. Plaintiff was able to work for Employer for 22 years before termination, suggesting the general ability to conform to Employer’s expectations, and the explanations provided as to the reason for some of her absences does not necessarily suffice to legitimately explain the particular absences resulting in Claimant’s termination. The standard of review is clear error, and the Circuit Court did not clearly err.

Digest Author: Jack Battaglia
Digest Updated: 9/14

Riccardi v Oakland General Health Systems – 12.154

Riccardi v Oakland General Health Systems
Digest no. 12.154

Section 29(1)(b)

Cite as: Riccardi v Oakland Gen Health Systems, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued January 10, 2006 (Docket No. 256164).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Carol Ann Riccardi
Employer: Oakland General Health Systems / St. John Oakland Hospital
Docket no.: 04-050903-AE
Date of decision: January 10, 2006

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COURT OF APPEALS HOLDING: A finding of statutory misconduct due to excessive absenteeism or tardiness cannot be made if there is no evidence that any of the absences were not for good cause.

FACTS: Claimant’s accumulation of absences for various reasons led to her termination under Employer’s “no-fault” attendance system which set forth a schedule detailing how escalating amounts of absenteeism would lead to increasingly severe penalties. The majority of the absences were documented as due to illness, doctor’s visits, car trouble, or problems at home. Claimant was initially granted benefits under the reasoning that she was not discharged for a deliberate disregard of her employer’s interests. This determination was overruled by the ALJ, and affirmed by the Board of Review and the Circuit Court, finding that Claimant had committed disqualifying misconduct under the reasoning that her absences were excessive, she was aware of the attendance policy that could lead to dismissal, and she “made very little effort” to correct her attendance problem.

DECISION: The orders of the below tribunals are reversed, and the initial determination finding Claimant entitled to benefits is reinstated.

RATIONALE: Absenteeism and tardiness for reasons that are not outside a claimant’s control may constitute statutory misconduct. However, misconduct requires a determination that the claimant’s attendance issues were without good cause, and it is the employer’s burden to show this.

Here, no below tribunal made any factual findings discrediting Claimant’s explanations for her absences, rather only finding her disqualified due to the excessive nature of her absences and taking no remedial action despite knowing that her job was in jeopardy. Without a finding that her absences were not for good cause, the burden required to establish disqualifying misconduct was not met. The below tribunals erred in finding statutory misconduct.

Digest Author: Jack Battaglia
Digest Updated: 9/14

Hoag v. Emro Marketing – 12.141

Hoag v. Emro Marketing
Digest No. 12.141

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Hoag v Emro Mktg, unpublished opinion of the Maycomb County Circuit Court, issued April 9, 1999 (Docket No. 98-4783-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Jeffery A. Hoag
Employer: Emro Marketing
Docket no.: 98-4783-AE
Date of decision: April 9, 1999

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HOLDING: Recurrences of negligent behavior do not per se suggest an intentional and substantial disregard of an employer’s interests and thus cannot per se establish misconduct.

FACTS: Appellant worked as an assistant manager for Emro Marketing and was discharged for cash drawer shortages. Appellant was initially determined to be not disqualified from receiving benefits. A further redetermination also found Appellant not disqualified. A hearing in front of an ALJ held the same

finding that the employer had not met its burden of proof in establishing appellant was discharged for reasons which would constitute misconduct. Further, the ALJ found that the appellant’s reporting of the shortages which allocated the blame to himself,  coupled with his signing of the respective warnings from his employer did not constitute misconduct. The Michigan Employment Security Board of Review, on appeal, found that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies in this case. The Board concluded that if appellant did not commit theft, then he was obviously negligent. Further, the Board found misconduct was established by such reoccurrences as to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interests or of the employee’ s duties and obligations to the employer

DECISION: The Court finds the Board acted contrary to law when it determined appellant’s recurrent negligence rose to the level of disqualifying misconduct.

RATIONALE: The court found that the Board’s decision was contrary to law in that the facts found did not constitute the legal definition of misconduct. This is because the Board’s use of res ipsa loquitur was in error. When determining if misconduct exists,  the legal question is not merely whether appellant was negligent, but whether that negligence rises to the level of disqualifying misconduct. Negligent recurrences do not per se suggest an intentional and substantial disregard of an employer’s interests, thus, they do not amount to misconduct. Here the employer bears the burden of proof in showing appellant’s recurrent negligence showed an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interest.

Digest Author: Cydney Warburton, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016

Cooper v Mount Clemens Schools – 10.89

Cooper v Mount Clemens Schools
Digest no. 10.89

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Cooper v Mount Clemens Schools, Barry Circuit Court, Docket No. 98-194-AE (December 29, 1998).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Cyntheal Cooper
Employer: Mount Clemens Schools
Docket no.: B97-12037-146470
Date of decision: December 29, 1998

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CIRCUIT COURT HOLDING: A person who “resigns” after losing their job to a layoff has not voluntarily terminated their employment.

FACTS: On April 24, 1997 the claimant received a notice she would be laid off at the end of the contract year. On April 28, 1998 the claimant submitted a letter to the employer that indicated the claimant would not return to work for the employer in the next school year.

DECISION: The claimant is not disqualified for voluntary leaving.

RATIONALE: The Board of Review erred by finding the claimant left her position voluntarily. Claimant could not leave a job she already lost. “A person who `resigns’ after losing their job to a layoff has not voluntarily terminated their employment.”

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated:
7/99

Harrison v Hinman Co – 10.116

Harrison v Hinman Co
Digest no. 10.116

Section 29

Cite as: Harrison v Hinman Co, Unpublished Opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, Issued Mar. 22, 1996 (Docket No. 166274).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Joyce Harrison
Employer: Hinman Company
Docket no.: 92-002648-AE
Date of decision: March 22, 1996

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HOLDING: For the issue of whether an employee left work or was discharged under Section 29, the burden of proof falls on the Employer. Thus the burden to prove the nature of the separation (whether it was a quit or a discharge) falls on the employer.

FACTS: The Board of Review’s decision to find in favor of the Claimant was upheld by the Circuit Court. Employer then appealed to the Court of Appeals.

DECISION: The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court.

RATIONALE: Prior to reaching the question of whether a claimant should be disqualified for a quit or a discharge under Section 29  the question of the nature of the separation must first be addressed.  Whether the claimant quit or was discharged. For this question, “as with most disqualification issues, the burden of proof falls on the employer.”

In this case, the dispute rests on whether the claimant quit or was discharged. The referee and the Board of Review applied the appropriate standard, and the finding in favor of the Claimant is supported by evidence on the record.

Digest author: Nick Phillips
Digest editor: Jack Battaglia
Digest updated: 8/14

Tomei v General Motors Corp – 10.78

Tomei v General Motors Corp
Digest no. 10.78

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Tomei v General Motors Corp, 194 Mich App 180 (1992).

Appeal pending: No
Date of decision: May 4, 1992

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COURT OF APPEALS HOLDING: In plant closing cases, the burden of proof for demonstrating the voluntariness of a claimant’s decision to leave or retire falls first on the employer. The employer must show that the choices it offered were reasonable, viable and clearly communicated.

FACTS: In 1985, GMC announced closure of it’s BOC Flint body assembly plant. Claimant had 17 years seniority and was 64 years old. He understood he could transfer to a Buick plant in Flint, wait and transfer at a later time, or stay where he was. Claimant believed he lacked seniority and was too old to retain a job if he transferred, so he stayed put. Two years later (December 1987) when the plant closed, he was involuntarily retired. It turned out that claimant could have held a job if he’d gone to Buick. Also he could have elected to take a layoff for up to two years when his plant closed, during which time he could have collected sub-pay benefits. He could then have retired at the end of two years instead of retiring when the Flint plant closed.

DECISION: Claimant is not disqualified for voluntary leaving.

RATIONALE: Claimant was forced to rely on information provided by employer in making his employment decision. The information necessary for claimant to make an informed choice lay within the knowledge and control of the employer. Therefore, it is up to the employer to show that the options offered are not unreasonable, untenable or illusory. In this case, claimant’s decision to retire when his plant closed rather than accept a two year layoff with uncertain prospects for recall and an uncertain impact on future retirement rights, was not a voluntary severance of employment. Claimant “was forced to choose between untenable options in the face of an indeterminate future. While employment decisions are difficult under the best of circumstances, the mystery and confusion surrounding the decisions plaintiff had to make rendered it nearly impossible to make an informed, sensible choice.”

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated:
7/99