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Chase v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

August 15, 2002

WILLIAM D. CHASE, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT.



On Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (No. 00,2082-UI)

Before Steadman, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

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

Argued June 4, 2002

The District of Columbia's unemployment compensation law prevents an employee terminated for "gross misconduct" from receiving unemployment compensation benefits. Petitioner challenges the ruling of the Department of Employment Services ("DOES") that the basis of his discharge was gross misconduct. Because the Appeals Examiner failed to make sufficient findings, we are constrained to remand the case for further proceedings.

I. Facts

Petitioner worked for AIMCO/NHP as a maintenance technician at an apartment complex. On August 13, 2000, a Sunday, while petitioner was on call for emergency repair requests, he responded to a tenant's complaint about a leak. After examining the leak in a bedroom closet ceiling, petitioner announced there was nothing he could do until the next day and left. Petitioner did not contact his supervisor, Betty Wells, to inform her of the situation. The tenant then complained to the apartment management on August 14, 2000. After inspecting the water damage from the leak, Wells terminated petitioner for his actions.

A claims examiner granted petitioner's request for unemployment compensation benefits. AIMCO/NHP noted a timely appeal, which resulted in a hearing before an Appeals Examiner on October 24, 2000. After hearing testimony from Wells and petitioner and receiving into evidence the employer's exhibits, the Appeals Examiner reversed the awarding of benefits on November 3, 2000, concluding that petitioner had been terminated because he had violated his employer's rule prohibiting unsatisfactory work performance *fn1 and therefore was "disqualified to receive benefits." *fn2 Petitioner timely appealed, and the Office of Appeals and Review ("OAR") issued a Proposed Decision on December 19, 2000, summarily affirming the Appeals Examiner. Petitioner submitted objections in response, which the OAR rejected in its Final Decision of January 31, 2001.

II. Legal Principles

Prior to 1993, an employee who had been terminated for "misconduct" became ineligible for unemployment benefits. D.C. Code § 46-111(b) (1983). *fn3 In 1993, the D.C. Council passed legislation that replaced the single, all-encompassing term of "misconduct" with two separate types of misconduct: "gross misconduct" and the perhaps somewhat clumsily labeled "misconduct, other than gross misconduct," (sometimes termed "simple misconduct"). *fn4 This legislation *fn5 is now codified in D.C. Code § 51-110(b) (2001), which reads as follows:

(1) For weeks commencing after January 3, 1993, any individual who has been discharged for gross misconduct occurring in his most recent work, as determined by duly prescribed regulations, shall not be eligible for benefits until he has been employed in each of 10 successive weeks (whether or not consecutive) and, notwithstanding § 51-101, has earned wages from employment as defined by this subchapter equal to not less than 10 times the weekly benefit amount to which he would be entitled pursuant to § 51-107(b). (2) For weeks commencing after January 3, 1993, any individual who is discharged for misconduct, other than gross misconduct, occurring in the individual's most recent work, as defined by duly prescribed regulations, shall not be eligible for benefits for the first 8 weeks otherwise payable to the individual or until the individual has been employed in each of 8 subsequent weeks (whether or not consecutive) and, notwithstanding § 51-101, has earned wages from employment as defined by this chapter equal to not less than 8 times the weekly benefit amount to which the individual would have been entitled pursuant to § 51-107(b). In addition, such individual's total benefit amount shall be reduced by a sum equal to 8 times the individual's weekly benefit amount. (3) The District of Columbia Unemployment Compensation Board shall add to its rules and regulations specific examples of behavior that constitute misconduct within the meaning of this subsection.

Pursuant to subsection (3), DOES issued regulations that defined each type of misconduct as well as giving examples, *fn6 which we have previously discussed at some length in prior opinions. See, e.g., Giles v. District of Columbia Dep't of Empl. Servs., 758 A.2d 522, 524-25 (D.C. 2000); Washington Times, supra note 4, 724 A.2d at 1216-18. Given that a finding of gross misconduct entails a far more severe penalty than that for simple misconduct, it is obviously important that DOES examiners, when confronted with allegations of "misconduct," make an explicit and unambiguous finding as to which type of misconduct, if any, led to an employee's termination.

DOES regulations and our case law help guide examiners in determining whether certain behaviors constitute gross misconduct or simple misconduct. Certain principles, though, gleaned from our case law prior to and subsequent to the statutory revision, *fn7 apply whenever misconduct of either kind is alleged. For example, the burden always rests on the employer to prove misconduct. Giles, supra, 758 A.2d at 525-26. *fn8 Also, "[a] prerequisite to the denial of benefits in a misconduct case is that a finding of misconduct must be based fundamentally on the reasons specified by the employer for the discharge." Smithsonian Institution v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employ. Servs., 514 A.2d 1191, 1194 (D.C. 1986). If, as appears to have been the case here, *fn9 a finding of misconduct of either type is predicated on the employee's violation of an employer's rule, the Appeals Examiner must also determine:

(a) That the existence of the employer's rule was known to the employee;(b) That the employer's rule is reasonable; and (c) That the employer's rule is consistently enforced by the employer. 7 DCMR § 312.7.

Finally, "the question whether the employee committed misconduct must be resolved with reference to the statutory purpose, which is to protect employees against economic dependency caused by temporary unemployment." Butler v. District of ...


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