Commonwealth Court upholds firing of Liquor Control Board district manager

By Russell Boniface | May 22, 2017

HARRISBURG — The state Commonwealth Court on May 10 turned back an argument from a Liquor Control Board district manager who was fired for gambling during work hours and claimed his employer made no accommodation for his gambling addiction.

The court sustained the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s (PLCB) decision to remove Mark Emmett from his position as district manager for driving a state car to the Mohegan Sun Casino to gamble during work hours.

In May 2014, the PLCB received anonymous tips that placed Emmett at the casino. The casino’s video surveillance system also observed Emmett at the casino, while his player's card indicated that he was gambling at the casino.

The PLCB charged Emmett with conduct unbecoming of a Commonwealth employee. He was also charged with falsifying mileage reports and leave records. He was suspended on May 12, 2014, pending an investigation.

Emmett appealed and argued that his suspension violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act because no accommodation was made for his gambling addiction.

In a fact-finding investigation, Emmett argued that he was a good district manager, worked at least 37 1/2 hours per week and would never intentionally falsify labor time, although he admitted that he did not fill out his automotive report daily. He acknowledged that he shouldn’t have taken the state car to the casino and that he had a gambling addiction and an illness where he would “bend the truth.”

Despite an apology and seeking a second chance, Emmett was removed on July 2, 2014.

Emmett appealed the PLCB’s determination to the state Civil Service Commission. At a hearing, Emmett testified that he was employed by the PLCB for 29 years and followed rules. He acknowledged that he visited the casino 31 times in five months and would visit on his way to work. 

He also testified that the PLCB never prohibited him from visiting the casino. The fact-finding investigator testified that Emmett, being a district manager with certain freedoms, should be disciplined consistent with the PLCB charges.

In December 2015, the Commission dismissed the appeal and sustained PLCB’s firing. Emmett appealed to the Commonwealth Court and contended that the Commission failed to establish just cause.

Judge Patricia A. McCullough quashed Emmett’s appeal because he missed the filing deadline by five days. At any rate, McCullough stated in her opinion that the firing was justified because Emmett’s time at the casino conflicted with his regular working hours.

"Importantly, the nature of Petitioner’s position involves a significant amount of freedom and discretion, with minimal supervision. Petitioner’s abuse of that autonomy indicates a lack of judgment that erodes confidence in his character," the opinion states.

"Similarly, Petitioner’s failure to comply with the policy governing schedule modification suggests Petitioner failed to properly execute his duties."

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Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

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