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Kelley v. Department of Labor

Supreme Court of Vermont

July 18, 2014

Katherine Kelley,
v.
Department of Labor (Maple Leaf Farm Association, Inc., Employer-Appellant)

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Employment Security Board. Anne M. Noonan. Chair.

Lauren K. Peach, Vermont Legal Aid, Inc., St. Johnsbury, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Franklin L. Paulino of Bergeron, Paradis & Fitzpatrick, LLP, Burlington, for Employer-Appellant.

PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson and Crawford, JJ.

OPINION

Crawford, J.

[¶1] This case turns upon a common question in employment disputes: did the employee jump, or was she pushed? Employer Maple Leaf Farm Association, Inc. appeals from a decision of the Employment Security Board finding that its former employee Katherine Kelley was involuntarily terminated from her position and therefore eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. We affirm.

[¶2] Employer runs an intensive inpatient drug and alcohol treatment program. Claimant worked for employer as a part-time treatment counselor for seven years. Due to a conflict with a supervisor, claimant resigned from her position in writing on August 29, 2013. She stated in her letter to employer that her last day would be September 19, 2013, and employer allowed her to continue working. Four days later, on September 3, employer terminated her employment and escorted her off the premises.

[¶3] Claimant applied for unemployment compensation. The claims adjudicator determined that she was not entitled to benefits for the first two weeks after her termination because the accrued vacation pay that employer paid her during that period was in excess of her weekly benefit amount.[1] The claims adjudicator further determined that claimant was not entitled to benefits because she had left employment voluntarily without good cause attributable to her employer.

[¶4] Pursuant to 21 V.S.A. § 1348, claimant appealed to a referee who conducted an administrative hearing. The referee found that claimant did not leave her employment voluntarily even though she had tendered her resignation because employer discharged her during her period of notice. The referee found that claimant tendered her resignation on August 29, and that employer agreed to allow claimant to work until the end of the notice period, September 19. The referee found nothing in the record to support a finding that claimant's discharge was for misconduct. The referee found that employer had received a complaint from a patient about claimant, and discharged her for that reason. However, it found that claimant had not received any warnings regarding her performance. The referee therefore modified the determination of the claims adjudicator and held that claimant was entitled to benefits after September 21.

[¶5] Employer appealed the referee's decision to the Employment Security Board, which adopted the referee's findings and affirmed its conclusions. This appeal followed.

[¶6] Our review of decisions by the Employment Security Board is deferential, as decisions within the expertise of the Board " are presumed to be correct, valid, and reasonable." Bouchard v. Dep't of Emp't & Training, 174 Vt. 588, 589, 816 A.2d 508, 510 (2002) (mem.). We will uphold the Board's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, and its conclusions if they are supported by the findings. Id. In general, we also defer to the Board's interpretations of the statutes it is charged with administering. Blue v. Dep't of Labor, 2011 VT 84, ¶ 6, 190 Vt. 228, 27 A.3d 1096. The record supports the Board's findings and conclusions in this case.

[¶7] Vermont's Unemployment Compensation Act excludes employees from receiving benefits if they leave their employment ...


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