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SANDRA M. OKUM v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (10/04/83)

decided: October 4, 1983.

SANDRA M. OKUM, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BOARD OF REVIEW, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review in case of In Re: Claim of Sandra M. Okum, No. B-207018.

COUNSEL

Joseph K. Pierce, Tive, Hetrick & Pierce, for petitioner.

Charles Hasson, Associate Counsel, with him James K. Bradley, Associate Counsel, and Richard L. Cole, Jr., Chief Counsel, for respondent.

Judges Rogers, Williams, Jr. and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.

Author: Craig

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 387]

In this unemployment compensation appeal, the referee and the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review denied benefits on the ground that discharge of the claimant was warranted by her willful misconduct consisting of an insubordinate remark to her superior. The claimant, Sandra Okum, seeks a remand for a further hearing.

The key question is whether or not the compensation authorities erred as a matter of law in excluding, on the ground of lawyer-client privilege, evidence which, the claimant submits, would tend to show that her superior actually discharged her for being a "security risk," even before she uttered the remark in question.

The claimant was a closing coordinator and secretary for the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency in its legal department, one of the eight divisions

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 388]

    of that agency. Because the claimant had a relationship with an outside attorney who represented former employees in a legal action against the agency, the claimant and her superior, the chief counsel of the legal division, had several discussions concerning the possibility of a conflict of interest and the possible transfer of the claimant to another division. Finally, the chief counsel, a Mr. Dunbar, requested that the claimant report to his office. During the course of the conversation, the claimant became angry and referred to him as a "political hack," loudly enough to be heard by other employees.

There is no dispute concerning the findings which embody the foregoing history.

The disputed findings are those which state (1) that the claimant was discharged because of her utterance, (2) that the chief counsel said nothing which provoked her comment, and (3) that the chief counsel did not discharge her for any reason related to her association with the opposing attorney.

The claimant does not deny calling the chief counsel a "political hack," nor does she deny that such an address to her superior could be the basis of a discharge for willful misconduct consisting of insubordination. However, the claimant, maintaining from the outset that the chief counsel had settled upon her discharge as a "security risk" ...


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