Hodge v. US Security Associates, Inc. – 16.91

Hodge v. US Security Associates, Inc.
Digest No. 16.91

Section 421.29; Section 421.38

Cite as: Hodge v US Security Associates, Inc., unpublished opinion of the Mich. Sup. Ct., issued February 6, 2015 (Docket No. 149984).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Carnice Hodge
Employer: U.S. Security Associates, Inc.
Date of decision: February 6, 2015

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HOLDING: A reviewing court is not at liberty to substitute its own judgment for a decision of MCAC that is supported with substantial evidence.

FACTS: Claimant was a security guard at an airport. Claimant was fired for accessing publicly available flight departure information on a computer at the request of a traveler in violation of the employer’s policy regarding the unauthorized use of computer equipment. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) disqualified claimant from unemployment benefits for committing misconduct under Section 421.29. The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) affirmed, holding that the decision was made in conformity with the facts as developed at the hearing and properly applied the law to the facts. The Wayne Circuit Court reversed, concluding that claimant’s conduct did not warrant a denial of benefits because claimant was violating the employer’s policy in order to help a customer, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the Wayne Circuit Court’s reversal.

DECISION: The Court of Appeals judgment is reversed and the MCAC judgment is reinstated.

RATIONALE: The Wayne Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals applied an incorrect standard of review by substituting their own assessment of the relative severity of claimant’s violation of her employer’s rules for the assessment of MCAC. A reviewing court is not at liberty to substitute its own judgment for a decision of MCAC that is supported with substantial evidence. A circuit court must affirm a decision of the ALJ and MCAC if it conforms to law and if competent, material, and substantial evidence supports it. The ALJ was the only adjudicator who actually heard testimony and observed the demeanor of the witnesses while testifying, reviewed all the evidence in the record, and made findings of fact based on credibility of witnesses and weight of the evidence. MCAC’s assessment of claimant’s conduct was made within the correct legal framework and was therefore authorized by law and not contrary to law, so the courts below improperly reweighed the evidence in order to reach a different assessment in violation of Section 421.38 and Const. 1963, art 6, § 28.

Digest author: Winnie Chen, Michigan Law, Class of 2017

Digest updated: 11/19/2017

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