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Giles v. District Of Columbia Department Of Employment Services

August 31, 2000

FREDDIE R. GILES, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, APPELLEE.



Before Ruiz and Glickman, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

Submitted September 16, 1999

Petitioner, Freddie Giles, appeals a decision by the Office of Appeals and Review (OAR) which affirmed his disqualification for unemployment compensation benefits because his termination was due to "gross misconduct." See D.C. Code § 46-111 (b) (1996). Giles was employed as a plumber by American University from January 1, 1993, until May 12, 1995, at which time he was terminated for poor work performance and failure to obey direct supervisory orders. Giles filed a claim for unemployment benefits on May 10, 1995. He was disqualified from benefits by the Claims Examiner due to "gross misconduct." After an appeal hearing, during which Giles and witnesses for American University gave testimony and presented documentary evidence, the Appeals Examiner affirmed the original gross misconduct disqualification. The OAR also affirmed the gross misconduct disqualification. Giles appeals the disqualification decision to this court. We vacate and remand for further consideration as to whether petitioner's "poor work performance" constituted "gross misconduct" disqualifying him from unemployment compensation benefits under the statute.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

Giles is an experienced plumber who was popular with the students at American University. *fn1 On several occasions in the period between September 1994 and April 1995, Giles failed to perform his job according to his employer's expectations. The record documents a number of warnings exhorting Giles to improve his performance and setting forth the consequences if he did not. In a letter dated September 22,1994, Giles' supervisor, Rick Ricker, documented Giles' "[m]isuse of time during regular work hours" and warned that Giles' "productivity during regular hours and [his] need to perform work in a timely fashion had become increasingly alarming." The letter detailed the "la[te]st incident" on September 21, 1994, in which Giles failed to timely unstop a toilet as directed. A formal written reprimand from Ricker to Giles for failure to turn in work tickets, dated January 20, 1995, notes that Ricker and Giles spoke on January 12, 1995, "and a number of times before," concerning Giles' failure to fill out and return completed work tickets. On January 26, 1995, Willy Suter, a Director of Physical Plant Operations, cited Giles for "poor work performance" and a "careless and slipshod response" to a work request concerning a water leak. This memorandum cautioned Giles that future work-related problems would result in "serious disciplinary action that could include your termination." Giles was ordered to contact his supervisors if "ever in doubt about what is expected" or if "unable to solve a problem." Finally, an April 27, 1995, memorandum notifying Giles of his termination documents two examples of poor work performance after the January 26, 1995, written warning. Specifically, on April 20, 1995, Giles was asked by his supervisor to help another plumber repair piping, but Giles did not respond and failed to contact his supervisor when he had difficulty obtaining his tools. Similarly, on April 26, 1995, Giles had difficulty repairing a clogged drain in a water fountain but failed to contact his supervisor.

ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

This court must affirm the agency's decision when (1) the agency made findings of fact on each materially contested issue of fact, (2) substantial evidence supports each finding, and (3) the Board's conclusions flow rationally from its findings of fact. Perkins v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 482 A.2d 401, 402 (D.C. 1984); D.C. Code § 1-1510 (a)(3)(E) (1999). We defer to agency findings of fact so long as they are supported by substantial evidence. See Cooper v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 588 A.2d 1172, 1174 (D.C. 1991). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Gardner v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 736 A.2d 1012, 1015 (D.C. 1999) (citations omitted).

B. Statutory Scheme

As a result of recent amendments, our Unemployment Compensation Act now differentiates between terminations for "gross misconduct," D.C. Code § 46-111 (b)(1), and terminations for "misconduct, other than gross misconduct," D.C. Code § 46-111 (b)(2). See generally District of Columbia v. Department of Employment Servs., 713 A.2d 933, 936-37 (D.C.1998) (explicating history of recent amendments). The statute provides that the term "gross misconduct" shall be "determined under duly prescribed regulations," § 46-111 (b), regulations that took effect June 24, 1994, see 7 DCMR § 312 (1994), 41 D.C. Reg. 4167 (1994). "The relatively new provisions in the regulations relating to gross misconduct and simple misconduct have not yet been construed by this court." The Washington Times v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 724 A.2d 1212, 1221 (D.C. 1999).

Under the statute, an employee who is discharged for "gross misconduct," as defined in the regulations, is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits immediately after that discharge. See D.C. Code § 46-111 (b)(1). *fn2 The regulations define gross misconduct as "an act which deliberately or willfully violates the employer's rules, deliberately or willfully threatens or violates the employer's interests, shows a repeated disregard for the employee's obligation to the employer, or disregards standards of behavior which an employer has a right to expect of its employee." 7 DCMR § 312.3. *fn3 The term "other than gross misconduct" means "an act or omission by an employee which constitutes a breach of the employee's duties or obligations to the employer, a breach of the employment agreement or contract, or which adversely affects a material employer interest . . . includ[ing] those acts where the severity, degree, or other mitigating circumstances do not support a finding of gross misconduct." *fn4 7 DCMR § 312.5.

C. Evidence of Gross Misconduct

Giles argues that the facts presented in his case do not support a finding of gross misconduct within the meaning of D.C. Code § 46-111 (b)(1) and the regulations. *fn5 The burden to prove misconduct or gross misconduct is on the employer. See The Washington Times, 724 A.2d at 1218 (citing 7 DCMR ยง 312.2). The issue before us is whether the facts found by the agency support a finding of ...


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