Tuesday, November 26, 2013

UC - reconsideration - good cause

Laster v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – November 26, 2013


Claimant had problems with her supervisor.  When they reviewed a written report of the supervisor, claimant said she wasn’t accusing the supervisor of lying but one statement in the report was a lie.  Claimant was fired and referee found she'd committed willful misconduct.

Claimant timely appealed to the UCBR, which determined that although Employer had the right to discharge Claimant, Claimant’s statement to her supervisor that the supervisor was lying was not willful misconduct. (UCBR’s Decision, 10/12/12, at 3.) The UCBR explained:
 

The claimant may not have used the most appropriate language by spontaneously saying that it was a lie. The employer may have had reason to determine that the claimant could no longer work with her supervisor. However, the claimant’s comment was not so egregious as to rise to the level of disqualifying willful misconduct.


Therefore, the UCBR reversed the referee’s decision and awarded Claimant benefits.

By letter dated October 26, 2012, Employer requested reconsideration of the UCBR’s decision. In the five-page letter, Employer objected to Claimant’s petition for appeal to the UCBR, claiming that it was improperly filed by a different counsel than was present at the referee’s hearing and that it was replete with inaccurate and misleading statements. Employer also outlined numerous “inaccuracies” in the UCBR’s findings of fact and offered Employer’s “corrected” version of the facts.

The UCBR granted Employer’s request for reconsideration and vacated its prior order. The UCBR did not state any reason for granting reconsideration and did not take any additional evidence. The UCBR then entered a new order affirming the referee’s denial of benefits under section 402(e) of the Law. The UCBR concluded:

The claimant stated the supervisor was lying. At that point, the employer had reason to determine that the claimant could no longer work with her supervisor. However she phrased it, the claimant accused her supervisor of lying at a meeting with the Executive Director. That amounts to disqualifying willful misconduct.

Claimant requested reconsideration of the UCBR’s decision, which the UCBR denied.

In her petition for review, Claimant asserts that the UCBR abused its discretion in granting reconsideration and vacating its October 12, 2012, order without good cause. We agree.

The UCBR’s regulations provide that reconsideration will be granted “only for good cause in the interest of justice without prejudice to any party.” 34 Pa. Code §101.111(b). “In determining whether ‘good cause’ exists, the [UCBR] must consider whether the party requesting reconsideration has presented new evidence or changed circumstances or whether [the UCBR] failed to consider relevant law.” Ensle v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 740 A.2d 775, 779 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999). None of these requirements was met in this case.

In its reconsideration request, Employer did not allege a change of circumstance, seek to introduce new evidence that was unavailable at the time of the hearing, or articulate any legal theory that the UCBR failed to consider in its initial decision. Employer merely reargued its case before the UCBR, which is not “good cause” for granting reconsideration. See Bushofsky v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 626 A.2d 687, 690 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993) (stating that reconsideration is properly denied where the petitioner seeks to introduce “the evidence already offered”); Grcich v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 440 A.2d 681, 682-83 & n.1 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982) (holding that the UCBR improperly granted reconsideration and reversed its prior order where “the only additional factual elements contained in the record” after the UCBR’s initial decision were two employer letters asserting that the UCBR “‘completely ignore[d] the testimony of every witness except [claimant]’” and committed other improprieties) (quoting the record); see also Ensle, 740 A.2d at 779-80 (noting that the UCBR may not grant reconsideration merely to revisit credibility issues).

Moreover, “before the [UCBR] agrees to reconsider its own decision[,] there must appear of record some reason to support this exercise of discretion.” Flanagan v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 407 A.2d 471, 473 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1979). Here, nothing in Employer’s reconsideration request, the UCBR’s order granting reconsideration, or the record demonstrates good cause. In addition, because the UCBR failed to state its reason for granting reconsideration and took no additional evidence, Claimant had no opportunity to present her position on the issue or issues being reconsidered. The UCBR acted in direct conflict with its own regulation, which states that reconsideration is proper “only for good cause in the interest of justice without prejudice to any party.” 34 Pa. Code §101.111(b). Therefore, we conclude that the UCBR abused its discretion in granting reconsideration without good cause.

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