Kowalski v. Henry Ford Macomb Hospital – 12.143

Kowalski v. Henry Ford Macomb Hospital
Digest No. 12.143

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Kowalski v Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, unpublished opinion of the Macomb Circuit Court, issued January 27, 2012 (Docket No. 2011-2690-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Robert P. Kowalski
Employer: Henry Ford Macomb Hospital
Docket no.: 2011-2690-AE
Date of decision: January 27, 2012

View/download the full decision

HOLDING: It is not a willful and wanton disregard of an employer’s interests to repeatedly access confidential patient information without explicit authorization when (1) the employer had a vague and discretionary policy regarding access to the confidential information, and (2) the employee, in the course of accessing information related to his job duties, is unable to avoid viewing confidential information unrelated to his assigned tasks.

FACTS: Claimant (appellant) worked as a regulatory documentation clerk at the Henry Ford Macomb Hospital.  As a documentation clerk, claimant used a computer system (the MIDAS system) to enter patient Medicaid information.  Although claimant had unrestricted access to the MIDAS computer suite and all its associated confidential patient information, the employer claimed that claimant was only authorized to view information on two particular MIDAS screens.  The employer maintained that claimant was only to access information that he had a “need to know.”  Claimant testified to his belief that he was authorized to view information in any part of the MIDAS system in order to complete job-related tasks.  After claimant submitted a report to his supervisor that contained patient information outside the scope of claimant’s supposed purview, a computer audit was initiated to investigate claimant’s MIDAS access history.  The audit revealed that claimant had accessed MIDAS screens with information that the employer considered unrelated to his job duties.  Claimant testified at a hearing before an ALJ that he had accessed the information on these screens in order to perform job-related tasks.  Although the ALJ found that “the employer failed to establish that [claimant] willfully, wantonly, and intentionally . . . disregard[ed] . . . standards of behavior which the employer had the right to expect,” the Board of Review reversed the decision.  The Board based their decision on a finding that claimant deliberately accessed a file without authorization.  At the Board hearing, claimant presented evidence that the MIDAS system required him to go through the allegedly unauthorized screens in order to access the authorized screens.

DECISION: Decision of the Board of Review was not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record.  Decision of the Board of Review reversed and decision of the ALJ affirmed.

RATIONALE: Because (1) there were valid reasons for claimant to access the entire MIDAS system, rather than the limited use supposed by the employer’s “need to know” policy, and (2) access to the authorized screens required going through the unauthorized screens first, the claimant’s actions were a “good faith error in judgement.”

Digest Author: James Mestichelli, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016

Nassif v. Northwest Benefits, Inc. – 12.147

Nassif v. Northwest Benefits, Inc.
Digest No. 12.147

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Nassif v  Northwest Benefits, Unpublished Opinion of the Saginaw County Circuit Court, Issued Sep. 30, 2008 (Docket No.07-066426 AE 4).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Kevin C. Nassif
Employer: Northwest Benefits, Inc.
Docket no.: 07-066426 AE 4
Date of decision: September 30, 2008

View/download the full decision

HOLDING: The decision of the board of review is affirmed. Claimant is disqualified for unemployment benefits under the misconduct provisions of 29(1)(b) of MES.

FACTS:  Claimant worked for Northwest Tire & Service Inc., alk/a Northwest Benefits Inc. as a store manager. His employment was terminated for a series of claimed false statements and misconduct occurring within a relatively short time period.

Following his termination from employment claimant was initially found qualified for unemployment benefits. This initial decision of the Unemployment Agency was affirmed following a referee hearing but was subsequently reversed on appeal to the Board of Review.  Both the ALJ and the Board found evidence of misconduct.

Claimant is appealing the Board of Review’s finding of misconduct. Claimant additionally contends that the Board’s determination is the product of unlawful procedure and/or otherwise affected by substantial and material irregularities based on two different letters he received from his former employer.

The first letter cited by the claimant was from his former employer’s counsel informing him that pursuant to the terms of termination he was to have no contact with any Northwest stores or current employees for any reason. Claimant understood this as meaning he was prohibited from contacting any employees even to seek their help and to testify on his behalf, and that had he known this was not the case he would have better prepared his case.

The second letter requested that he consent to written argument before the Board of Review. Claimant questions whether the Board of Review considered any additional written arguments or testimony before making its decision and if so, should he not have been afforded the opportunity to respond

DECISION: When viewed in totality, these incidents establish a willful disregard of the employer’s interests and constitute “misconduct” within the meaning of the statute. Further, there is not enough evidence to support claimant’s contention that the Board’s determination was the product of unlawful procedure and/or otherwise affected by substantial and material irregularities.

RATIONALE: In regards to the incidents in question, the court found that while the claimant’s conduct runs the continuum from mere negligence to the deliberate violation of rules and apparent indifference to one’s obligations as an employee, when viewed in totality, these incidents establish a willful disregard of the employer’s interests and constitute “misconduct” within the meaning of the statute.

In regards to claimant’s contention that the Board’s determination was the product of unlawful procedure and/or otherwise affected by substantial and material irregularities., the court found an insufficient basis for setting aside the decision of the Board of Review and/or ordering a new hearing.

In regards to the first letter, the court found that the claimant has not demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court that additional testimony would have made any difference to the determination of any issues of importance to the case since all the persons who were directly involved in the incidents that led to claimant’s termination testified at the hearing. The court did find that claimant could have called additional witnesses, the testimony that they could have been able to provide would not have shed any additional light on his termination.

In regards to the claimant contention that the Board’s determination was the product of unlawful procedure In regards to the second letter cited by the claimant, the court found that  there was nothing in the file to indicate the Board of Review considered anything other than the record made at the referee hearing. There was no request for additional evidence, no oral presentation made, and if the Board did consider any additional briefs, it was only by claimant’s consent. The copy of the letter made part of the file does not indicate that claimant even signed the incorporated consent language found in the body of the letter. The court found that at present, all that can be said is that no consent was given and no additional written argument was made.

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

Mowatt v. Village of Birch Run – 12.146

Mowatt v. Village of Birch Run
Digest no. 12.146

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Mowatt v Village of Birch Run, Saginaw County Circuit Court, No. 08-000001-AE-2 (August 20, 2008).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Robert Mowatt, Jr.
Employer: Village of Birch Run
Docket no.: 190282H
Date of decision: August 20, 2008

View/download the full decision

HOLDING: Claimant’s failure to sign an Improvement Plan aimed at advancing his job performance was conduct related to his work and constituted a deliberate and willful act against his employer’s interests. Thus, claimant’s failure to sign the plan amounted to disqualifying misconduct to bar claimant from unemployment benefits.

FACTS: On January 23, 2006, Robert Mowatt was fired from his position as Chief of Police by the Village of Birch Run. Mowatt failed to sign and acknowledge a performance improvement plan crafted by his employer to improve his job performance. Mowatt was first asked to sign the plan at a December 5, 2005 Village Council meeting. The Board of Review determined that failure to sign the improvement plan rose to the level of disqualifying misconduct.

DECISION: The circuit court affirmed the Board of Review’s decision, which found that claimant’s failure to sign the plan rose to the level of disqualifying misconduct under section 29(1)(b) of the MES Act.

RATIONALE: Claimant argued that the review of the Board’s record did not show that he refused to sign the plan, but rather that he simply needed clarification and could not sign the document as written. However, evidence showed that claimant had multiple opportunities to discuss the plan and address his concerns with the Village. Moreover, the Village decided that the improvement plan was in their best interest to advance claimant’s job performance. That claimant disagreed with the necessity of the plan is irrelevant to whether he acted deliberately against the interests of his employer. Thus, the court agreed that claimant’s outright refusal to sign the plan showed a willful disregard of his employer’s interests. Because the plan was directly aimed to improve claimant’s performance, his failure to sign the plan was related to his work. Further, a single incident of misconduct may satisfy the statutory meaning of misconduct under section 29(1)(b) of the MES Act. Tuck v. Ashcrafi’s Market Inc., Mich.App. 579, 589 (1986). Therefore, the court found that claimant’s insubordination amounted to disqualifying misconduct and the Board’s decision to deny him benefits was not contrary to law.

Digest Author: Adam Kleven, Michigan Law, Class of 2018
Digest Updated: 1/6/2016