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Cite as: Bixler v Concentra Health Services, Inc, unpublished opinion of the Wayne Circuit Court, issued January 24, 2012 (Docket No. 11-009212-AE).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

Long v. Hudsonville Body Shop, Inc. – 12.145

Long v. Hudsonville Body Shop, Inc.
Digest No. 12.145

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Long v Hudsonville Body Shop, Kent County Circuit Court, No. 09-06869-AE (November 20, 2009).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Jason Long
Employer: Hudsonville Body Shop, Inc.
Docket no.: 203605W
Date of decision: November 20, 2009

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HOLDING: The Board’s decision that Long was discharged for misconduct connected with his work was not contrary to law and was supported by substantial evidence. Long willfully and intentionally disregarded Hudsonville Body’s interests when he violated the company’s drug policy by offering to obtain illegal drugs for an employee of another company in the same building.

FACTS: On November 15, 2008, Long’s car broke down on his way to work. Mike Zwak, a tow-truck driver employed by Hudsonville Towing, came to tow Long’s car. Hudsonville Body and Hudsonville Towing operated out of the same building and both referred business to each other. Both companies provided services for law enforcement. Zwak alleged that Long initiated a conversation where Long asked if Zwak smoked “the good stuff” and that he could get Zwak some. Zwak declined. The owner of Hudsonville Body learned of this incident and terminated Long’s employment pursuant to its policies prohibiting the use, sale, or possession of illegal drugs on or off the premises during business hours. Long denied offering to sell Zwak drugs.

DECISION: The circuit court affirmed the Board of Review’s decision, which found the claimant to be disqualified for benefits because of misconduct under Section 29(1)(b) of the MES Act.

RATIONALE: Hudsonville Body strongly emphasized to Long their illegal drug policy and their business relationship with law enforcement. While Hudsonville Towing was a separate company, they operated out of the same building as Hudsonville Body and the two referred business to each other. Long argued that, under Hagenbuch v. Plainwell Paper Company, while an employer can fire an employee for actions while not working and not on the employer’s premises, the actions are not necessarily misconduct in connection with his work under the Act. The circuit court reasoned that in some cases an employee’s actions, while not working and not on the premises, might not be misconduct connected with his work, Hagenbuch does not mandate such a finding in every case.

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

 

Ciaravino v. Ford Motor Co. – 14.16

Ciaravino v. Ford Motor Co.
Digest No. 14.16

Section 421.29(1)(m)

Cite as: Ciaravino v Ford Motor Co, unpublished opinion of the Macomb County Circuit Court, issued December 19, 2007 (Docket No. 2007-2858-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Robert Ciaravino
Employer: Ford Motor Company
Docket no.: 189730H
Date of decision: December 19, 2007

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Holding: The Board’s decision that Ciaravino should be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits was not contrary to law and was supported by substantial evidence. Ford’s evidence was sufficient to show that Ciaravino’s positive drug test for marijuana, a controlled substance, disqualified him from receiving benefits.

Facts: Robert Ciaravino worked as an employee for Ford Motor Company from October 1994 until October 7, 2005. After he tested positive for marijuana during a random urinalysis, he was discharged. Ciaravino’s specimen was taken by Beverley Tukis, a Ford full-time nurse, and the positive drug results were received by Sally Gruca, another Ford full-time nurse.

Decision: The circuit court affirmed the Board of Review’s decision, which found the claimant to be disqualified from receiving benefits for misconduct under Section 29(1)(m) of the MES Act.

Rationale: Though Ciaravino denied using marijuana and said he had been taking Vicodin for a knee injury, there was no evidence that Vicodin would produce a false positive for marijuana or that the test was erroneous. Ciaravino had also signed a Reinstatement Waiver on April 4, 2005 in which he agreed to submit to random drug and alcohol testing as a condition of employment at Ford. The discharge of an individual due to ingestion of marijuana, which is considered a “controlled substance” pursuant to MCL 333.7104, 7201 and 7212, disqualifies the individual from receiving benefits. Ford also provided sufficient evidence to establish an adequate chain of custody from which a positive specimen result could be inferred.

Digest Author: Alisa Hand, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016