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Murphy & Landon, P.A. v. Pernic

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

July 11, 2014

MURPHY & LANDON, P.A., Appellant,
v.
CHELSEY F. PERNIC Appellees.

Submitted: July 18, 2013

Lauren A. Cirrinicione, Esquire, Murphy & Landon, P.A., Attorney for Appellant.

Chelsey F. Pernic, pro se, Appellee.

OPINION AND ORDER

Ferris W. Wharton, Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Murphy & Landon ("Firm"), a law firm in Wilmington, Delaware, filed this appeal from a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ("UIAB" or "Board") on June 5, 2013. The appeal was originally assigned to a judge of this Court on September 3, 2013. It was reassigned to a second judge on December 20, 2013. Subsequently that judge retired on May 2, 2014. It has been under consideration by this judge since June 6, 2014.

On appeal, the Court must determine whether the Board's decision to uphold the ruling of the Appeals Referee awarding benefits to Appellee, former Firm employee Chelsey Pernic ("Pernic"), is supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error. Upon consideration of the pleadings before the Court and the record below, the Court finds that the Board's ruling is supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error. Accordingly, the Board's decision is AFFIRMED.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL CONTEXT

Pernic worked as a legal assistant at the Firm intermittently for over two years.[1] Pernic's aunt, a paralegal at the Firm, recommended her for the job.[2] Pernic was considered a "full time" employee for at least half of her employment, including when her employment was terminated on May 11, 2012.[3] Pernic's discharge letter indicates the reasons for her termination were "many, " citing lateness, an uncooperative attitude, failure to take supervision, a financial policy violation, resisting assignments, failing to work required overtime, and open rudeness towards her supervising attorney and other employees.[4]

On May 13, 2012, Pernic filed a claim for benefits with the Delaware Department of Labor's Division of Unemployment Insurance ("Department").[5] In her claimant fact-finding questionnaire, Pernic "disagreed" with the reasons given for her termination, stating that she was not aware of these problems with her performance prior to being discharged.[6] She did admit to meeting with her supervising attorney, Francis Murphy ("Murphy"), "in late September or early October of 2011, " but stated that she was not given "specific examples or dates of incidents" that may have led to her termination.[7] The Firm maintains that Pernic was discharged because of her "misconduct, " reiterating the explanations stated in her termination letter. [8]

On May 31, 2012, the Claims Deputy for the Department awarded Pernic unemployment insurance benefits, finding the Firm failed to meet its burden of showing it discharged her for "just cause in connection with the work."[9] On June 8, 2012, the Firm appealed the Claim Deputy's decision.[10] At a hearing held on August 13, 2012, the Appeals Referee indicated that the hearing would focus on "the very last incident that led to termination."[11] Murphy contended that "there was more than one reason" for terminating Pernic, to which the Referee responded, "if you can give me a date and you can name multiple events or multiple occurrences on that same day, then that would be permissible . . . they would have to have all occurred on the same date."[12]

Given the Referee's instructions, the hearing focused on Pernic's alleged violation of the Firm's financial policy—specifically, the unauthorized payment of $3, 000 to an expert witness as a deposition fee.[13] Murphy claimed that "the fee was so exorbitant . . . I intended to file a motion with the Court or negotiate a lower rate with the attorney for the other side which I'm obligated to do first."[14] Murphy argued that it was "firm policy" that no legal assistant may pay invoices without approval from a supervising attorney.[15] However, during Pernic's cross examination of Murphy, Murphy admitted that the Firm does not have a "written policy, " but rather a policy that "every legal assistant in the firm knows."[16]

Throughout the hearing, Murphy was precluded from presenting evidence regarding Pernic's other alleged misconduct.[17] The Appeals Referee affirmed the decision of the Claims Deputy, finding Pernic was entitled to receive benefits.[18] The Firm appealed the Referee's decision to the Board, indicating they were "incorrectly prohibited . . . from presenting ...


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