Commonwealth Court upholds denial of unemployment compensation for fired receptionist

By David Hutton | Nov 28, 2017

HARRISBURG – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has upheld an Unemployment Compensation Board of Review decision denying Catherine A. Diamond unemployment benefits because of alleged misconduct.

Diamond filed a petition asking the court to review the board’s order upholding a compensation referee’s decision denying her benefits.

The panel hearing the appeal included judges P. Kevin Brobson, Michael H. Wojcik and Dan Pellegrini. Brobson wrote the opinion.

“The board concluded that claimant was ineligible for benefits pursuant to Section 402(e) of the Unemployment Compensation Law … relating to willful misconduct,” Brobson wrote in the Nov. 17 opinion. “We affirm the board’s order.”

According to the opinion, Diamond sought unemployment compensation after she was fired from her job as a receptionist at Total Body Pain Management. After her dismissal and claim, the Altoona UC Service Center ruled that Diamond was not eligible for unemployment benefits.

During a hearing held on June 26, 2016, the opinion states Total Body presented testimony from its owner, accountant and a medical assistant. Diamond testified on her own behalf and also was supported by her sister, who also worked as an office manager at Total Body.

The opinion states owner Stuart Kauffman said Diamond had worked as a front desk receptionist and he fired her on April 25, 2016, for theft and tardiness. Kauffman testified that he had adjusted Diamond’s work schedule to accommodate her tardiness and she was warned several times about the issue.

Kauffman also testified that he became concerned about an apparent shortage of funds going in the business’ bank account, and he asked Alicia Lecompte, the company’s accountant, to investigate.

Upon review, the opinion states a patient log revealed that a number of patients were noted to have paid in credit when they actually paid in cash. The deposits would be short by the amount of the erroneous recordings.

Lecompte also testified that on the day Kauffman fired Diamond, he found a patient appointment book that had been destroyed and some computer files containing patient documentation had been erased.

Kauffman then sought out a forensics team to analyze the computer.

Diamond testified that the log wasn’t purposely destroyed and the computer never contained any files containing patient information.

Ultimately, the referee ruled that Diamond wasn’t eligible for benefits under unemployment compensation laws regarding willful misconduct – a result of her theft and habitual tardiness.

In her appeal, Diamond claimed the board disregarded evidence presented at the hearing and erred by ruling her actions amounted to willful misconduct.

The court only analyzed the findings that Diamond developed an argument, noting that she couldn’t provide an explanation for discrepancies for the patient payment log.

Moreover, substantial evidence exists to counter Diamond’s objections to her tardiness and destruction of records.

Lastly, Diamond’s contention that her actions didn’t add up to willful misconduct is based on her assertion that she didn’t steal any money and that she was never warned for her repeated tardiness.

Citing Ford v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, Brobson noted that to the extent that Diamond can claim there is no direct evidence of her theft, “we have previously held that an employer may rely solely on circumstantial evidence to establish a claimant’s actions constituted theft.”

“Theft and habitual tardiness are examples of conduct this court has previously held to constitute willful misconduct,” he wrote.

The panel ruled the board was correct in its determination and Diamond’s actions equated to willful misconduct and it affirmed the board’s order.

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