Friday, August 14, 2015

UC - negligence v. willful misconduct - prior warnings - lack of findings - remand

Shadowfax Corp. v. UCBR – Auust 4, 2015 – unreported memorandum decision



The court remanded the case for findings about the employer’s alleged prior warning to claimant about her job performance.   Claimant was an activities coordinator at a mental health facility.  She was fired after she forgot to take one of the residents on a field trip, claiming to have inadvertently/negligently left him behind.


Mere negligence or inadvertence on its own does not rise to the level of willful misconduct. Scott v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 36 A.3d 643, 648 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012). Rather, willful misconduct requires “the additional element of an intentional disregard of the employer’s interests.” Myers v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 625 A.2d 622, 626 n.3 (Pa. 1993). However, repeated conduct of an employee in the face of multiple warnings will support a finding of willful misconduct. Scott, 36 A.3d at 648.   


The employer  presented evidence that Claimant had been previously warned concerning issues with her supervision of individuals under Employer’s care.   The Board capriciously disregards evidence when it “willfully or deliberately ignore[s] evidence that any reasonable person would have considered to be important.” Henderson v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 77 A.3d 699, 710 n.5 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013). Although the Board is the ultimate fact-finder when it comes to resolving evidentiary conflicts and making credibility determinations, the Board may not willfully ignore evidence when making credibility determinations. Id. Here, the referee’s findings of fact, which the Board adopted and incorporated, make no mention of the repeated warnings. Although the referee found Claimant’s testimony credible that she inadvertently left the resident at Employer’s facility, neither the Board nor the referee expressly considered Claimant’s previous warnings regarding supervisory concerns in analyzing whether her actions constituted willful misconduct.


In unemployment cases, the Board is the ultimate fact-finder empowered to make all determinations as to witness credibility and evidentiary weight. Peak v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 501 A.2d 1382, 1385 (Pa. 1985).    However, the Board in this case did not make any findings or determinations based on Claimant’s prior received warnings and did not make any credibility determinations concerning Employer’s witnesses. As reflected in Scott, supra, these findings are necessary to a determination of whether Claimant’s actions rise to the level of willful misconduct.   We reiterate that it is the Board’s duty and functional purpose to assign credibility and weight determinations to the evidence presented. See Wardlow v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 387 A.2d 1356, 1357 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1978). The Board’s failure to do so impedes our ability to conduct meaningful appellate review and requires that the case be remanded for such findings.




The opinion, though not reported, may be cited "for its persuasive value, but not as binding precedent."    210 Pa. Code 69.414.


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