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Harris v. Bayhealth Medical Center, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

February 21, 2019

VERRONA A. HARRIS, Claimant-Below, Appellant,

          Submitted: December 3, 2018



         Appellant/Claimant Verrona Harris (hereinafter "Ms. Harris") has appealed a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board (hereinafter the "UIAB") denying her unemployment benefits because she was discharged from her employment with Bayhealth Medical Center, Inc. (hereinafter "Bayhealth") for just cause. The Court's review is confined to the facts contained in the record, and it is those facts that are referenced herein. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the UIAB is AFFIRMED.

         I. Factual Background and Procedural History

         Ms. Harris worked at Bayhealth as a Food Service Supervisor from August 30, 2004, through March 20, 2018. Ms. Harris was terminated on the latter date due to fraud, falsification, or alteration of documents, including those used to calculate pay; theft; and violation of Bayhealth's values, accountability, and integrity, among other reasons.

         According to the record, Bayhealth maintained an "Electronic Facilities and Equipment Policy" (hereinafter the "Electronic Policy") prohibiting the sharing of passwords. Specifically, the Electronic Policy states that "Bayhealth employees... shall not afford or facilitate third party access to any electronic facilities at any time: e.g., permitting another employee... to use your password to access e-mail when that employee has not been granted access to e-mail."[1] The Electronic Policy goes on to state that "[e]mployees engaging in inappropriate use of Bayhealth owned/leased electronic facilities will be subjected to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment."[2]

         Ms. Harris was required to sign and acknowledge receipt of Bayhealth's Electronic Policy, and she received training on the Electronic Policy in January of 2016, 2017, and 2018. The training included information regarding HIPAA compliance as well as data privacy and security. Additionally, the training included specific information pertaining to password protection and stated that "[a]ll passwords are unique (just for you) and cannot be shared whether for e-mail or other software access."[3]

         Bayhealth also utilized a reward program and application, known as "Driven," whereby employees could be awarded recognition points by coworkers for outstanding service. According to Bayhealth, "[t]he Driven program is a program utilized by Bayhealth employees to reward and recognize each other for going 'above and beyond' in the workplace...."[4] Recipients could accumulate points which could then be used on items or gift cards or could be converted to a monetary dollar amount, e.g. 1, 000 points equated to a monetary value of $10.

         In February 2018, Bayhealth received a complaint that Ms. Harris was allegedly taking advantage of the Driven program. Bayhealth conducted an investigation into the complaint and discovered that Ms. Harris had been signing into the Driven program using other employees' usernames and passwords and had been awarding herself recognition points to be redeemed under her account.[5]Bayhealth was able to trace the login information to Ms. Harris and determine that Ms. Harris was logging into accounts from both inside and outside of Bayhealth between July 2017 and February 2018 and that Ms. Harris had utilized the login credentials of a number of Bayhealth employees. It was discovered that Ms. Harris had accumulated 387, 000 points, which equated to $3, 870. According to the record, Ms. Harris did not dispute that she had accessed her coworkers' accounts in order to award herself recognition points, but she asserted that she had received their permission to do so.

         Bayhealth deemed Ms. Harris's conduct to be fraudulent, and in violation of the Driven program and the Electronic Policy. Pursuant to the Corrective Action Policy, Ms. Harris's conduct was considered fraud constituting a Category 4 offense, meriting immediate termination of employment.

         Ms. Harris filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Delaware Department of Labor, Division of Unemployment Insurance. The Department of Labor issued its Notice of Determination on May 3, 2018, and found Ms. Harris disqualified from receipt of unemployment benefits, holding that her actions constituted "willful or wanton misconduct." Ms. Harris filed a timely appeal of that Notice of Determination, and a hearing was held on June 4, 2018, before an Appeals Referee. The Appeals Referee issued her Decision the same day, finding that Ms. Harris had been discharged for just cause. Ms. Harris then filed an appeal to the UIAB.

         A hearing was held before the UIAB on August 16, 2018. On that date, the UIAB issued its decision affirming the Appeals Referee's Decision that Ms. Harris had been discharged for just cause. The UIAB found sufficient evidence showing that Ms. Harris had violated Bayhealth's policy prohibiting the use of coworkers' passwords and logins.[6] The UIAB therefore found that Ms. Harris had been discharged for just cause and was disqualified from the receipt of unemployment benefits.[7] Additionally, the UIAB stated that Ms. Harris's evidence "purporting to show that her coworkers gave her permission - even if it was of record - does not overcome or negate the evidence showing her [in] violation of [Bayhealth's] policy against accessing other employees' electronic accounts." Ms. Harris timely appealed to this Court on August 24, 2018.

         II. Standard of Review

         An appeal from an administrative board's final order to this Court is confined to a determination of whether the board's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free from legal error.[8] Evidence is substantial when it is such that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.[9]The board's findings are conclusive and will be affirmed if supported by "competent evidence having probative value."[10] The appellate court does not weigh the evidence or make its own ...

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