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Bowers v. Professional Transportation, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

May 11, 2015

ALBERTA BOWERS, Appellant,
v.
PROFESSIONAL TRANSPORTATION, INC. and UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD, Appellees.

On Appeal from the Decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

Alberta Bowers, pro se Appellant.

Professional Transportation, Inc., 3700 E. Morgan Avenue, Evansville, Indiana, 47715. Appellee.

Paige J. Schmittinger, Esq., Delaware Department of Justice, Attorney for Appellee, Division of Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

ORDER

Calvin L. Scott Judge

On this 11th day of May, 2015, upon consideration of the Appellant's appeal from a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board ("Board"), the Court finds as follows:

2. Before the Appeals Referee, Employer testified that its policy dictates that a driver may not have any driver's license suspensions or revocations within the last five years otherwise they are unable to remain employed as a driver.[1]Employer also testified that its runs a Motor Vehicle Report ("MVR") check at the time an employee is hired.[2] Furthermore, Employer testified that its policy is that any time there is an accident involving one of its drivers and a work vehicle that an MVR is then run again for clarification of the status of the license of that particular driver.[3] Both at the Referee and Boarding hearings, Appellant testified that she disclosed that she had two driver's license suspensions within the last five years on her employment application for Employer. At the Board hearing, the representative for Employer testified that he had no personal involvement in Appellant's hiring.[4] He also testified that he was not aware of whether Appellant's prior suspensions were disclosed at the time of her hiring.[5]

[6]

4. The Referee found that Appellant had not previously disclosed the suspensions on her driver's license to Employer, and that Employer became aware of those suspensions as a result of the MVR run after Appellant's March 10, 2014 accident.[7] For those reasons, the Referee found Appellant was terminated for just cause.[8] The Board affirmed the Referee's determinations. Moreover, the Board found that, while Appellant testified that Employer was aware of her license suspensions prior to her hiring, "the record is devoid of evidence that supports that contention."[9] The Board also held that "[i]n the absence of corroborating documentation, the Board found Employer's contention that they did not have advanced knowledge of these violations to be credible."[10]

[11]

6. On appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board, the Superior Court must determine if the Board's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, free from legal error and was not the product of a capricious disregard of competent evidence.[12] Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[13] The Court must review the record to determine if the evidence is legally adequate to support the Board's factual findings.[14] The Court does not "weigh evidence, determine questions of credibility or make its own factual findings."[15] The Court reviews questions of law de novo to determine "whether the Board erred in formulating or applying legal precepts."[16] Where, as in this case, the Board adopts the factual findings of an Appeals Referee, this Court will also review the Appeals Referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law.[17]

7. An employer has the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence where an employee was discharged for "just cause."[18] Just cause for termination exists where a claimant committed a willful or wanton action in violation of either the employer's interests or of the employee's expected standard of conduct.[19] Therefore, this Court's review on appeal is limited to whether there was substantial evidence to support the Board's finding that Employer met its burden of proof in showing "just cause" for Appellant's termination.

8. The Court finds that there was not substantial evidence to support the Board's finding that Appellant was terminated for just cause, and that the Board erred as a matter of law when it shifted the burden of proof from Employer to Appellant. The sole basis for the Board's finding that Employer had satisfied its burden of proof was Employer's testimony before the Referee that it was not aware of Appellant's license suspensions prior to the MVR run subsequent to the March 10, 2014 accident. At both the Referee and Board hearings, Appellant made reference to her employment application for Employer in support of her argument that Employer was aware of her license suspensions at the time of her hiring. Yet, the only documentation submitted at either proceeding regarding notice to Employer of Appellant's prior license suspensions is Appellant's MVR run for her March 10, 2014 accident. Appellant's employment application with Employer, a record traditionally retained by an employer, is not in the record. Nor is there documentation of the MVR for Appellant at the time she was hired, in accordance with Employer's policy, or the MVR for Appellant as a result of Appellant's accident during her employment six months earlier.[20] The Board disregarded Appellant's reference to documentary evidence supporting her argument because Appellant did not produce her employment application, despite the facts that the burden of proof was on Employer to offer evidence in support of just cause and employment applications are retained by employers.

9. For these reasons, the Court finds that the Board's decision, finding just cause for termination, is not supported by substantial evidence. Furthermore, the Court finds that the Board erred as a matter of law when it improperly shifted the burden of proof from Employer to Appellant by disregarding Appellant's valid reference to documentary evidence held by Employer. Accordingly, the Board's decision is REMANDED with the instruction to complete the record with Appellant's employment application for Employer, as well as any similar documentary evidence that may be held by Employer which supports whether or not Employer had knowledge of Appellant's prior license suspensions at the time of her hiring.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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