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Philadelphia Parking Authority v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review

July 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McCULLOUGH

Submitted: March 12, 2010



The Philadelphia Parking Authority (Employer) appeals from the September 21, 2009, order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (Board), which affirmed a referee's determination that Charlene L. Heeney (Claimant) is not ineligible for benefits pursuant to section 402(e) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law).*fn1 We affirm.

Claimant last worked for Employer as a "money room technician," which involved collecting money, distributing money to cashiers, and performing banking transactions. Claimant had previously worked as a supervisor; however, she was hospitalized due to uncontrolled diabetes and was unable to work for approximately three months. Because of complications from her medical condition, Claimant could not continue to work as a supervisor, and Employer assigned Claimant to work in the money room.

Working the 3:30 p.m. to midnight shift, Claimant would sit in the money room for hours at a time with nothing to do, and she would get drowsy. (Board's Findings of Fact Nos. 2, 10.) She requested additional work to keep her busy and to prevent her from falling asleep, but, except for two limited assignments, Employer did not provide Claimant with additional work. (Board's Findings of Fact Nos. 11, 12.) Furthermore, when she was hospitalized, Claimant was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition that would cause her to fall asleep without realizing it. (Board's Finding of Fact No. 5.) Claimant mentioned this condition to Employer when she returned to work following her hospitalization. (Board's Finding of Fact No. 7.)

Claimant fell asleep in the money room on January 7, 15, 18, and 24 of 2009. (Board's Finding of Fact No. 14.) Pursuant to a work rule that proscribes sleeping on duty, Employer terminated Claimant's employment.

Claimant applied for unemployment compensation benefits; however, the local service center concluded that Claimant engaged in willful misconduct and, thus, was ineligible for benefits. Claimant appealed, and a referee held a hearing at which Claimant and three witnesses for Employer testified. Employer presented evidence to show that Claimant was sleeping on the job, that it had a work rule proscribing sleeping on duty, and that such conduct caused the termination of Claimant's employment. Employer indicated it was aware that Claimant had medical problems, but denied that Claimant had informed it that medical conditions were causing her to fall asleep or to become fatigued. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 30a-31a.) In response, Claimant did not deny that she was sleeping, but rather testified that she was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which causes her to fall asleep. Furthermore, Claimant indicated she had long periods on the job with nothing to do and that she informed Employer that she was tiring on the job. Claimant asked to be assigned additional work because it made her less likely to "konk out", but she was only given such work on two occasions. Claimant testified that she did not deliberately go to sleep. (R.R. at 38a-41a.)

Following the hearing, the referee determined that Claimant's actions did not rise to the level of willful misconduct and that she was eligible for benefits. Employer appealed to the Board, which affirmed the referee's decision, reasoning as follows:

The claimant credibly testified to her health problems and that she had been diagnosed with sleep apnea that caused her to fall asleep without her realizing it. The claimant's testimony regarding her medical condition is sufficient to support that she has sleep apnea and that it caused her to fall asleep. She also credibly testified that she had hours with nothing to do, advised employer of this, and that she was becoming drowsy. The claimant requested additional work from the employer so she would not fall asleep. Except for two brief assignment[s], the employer would not give claimant extra work to do. The claimant admittedly fell asleep while on duty. However, the claimant credibly testified regarding the effect her sleep apnea had on her and that she advised the employer of her sleep apnea in the conference room after she had been advised that she had been seen asleep on duty. Based upon the claimant's credible testimony, the Board concludes that the claimant had good cause for her conduct, due to her medical condition. The Board notes that the Pennsylvania courts have held that the claimant's credible testimony about her own medical condition is sufficient to support a finding regarding that condition. Accordingly, the claimant is eligible for benefits under the provisions of Section 402(e) of the Law.

(R.R. at 55a.)

On appeal to this Court,*fn2 Employer contends that the Board erred by relying solely on Claimant's testimony to determine that, because Claimant suffered from a medical condition that caused her to fall asleep, her doing so did not constitute willful misconduct.

Initially, we note that while the Law does not define "willful misconduct," our courts have defined that term as including: (1) a wanton or willful disregard for an employer's interests; (2) a deliberate violation of an employer's rules; (3) a disregard for standards of behavior which an employer can rightfully expect of an employee; or (4) negligence indicating an intentional disregard of the employer's interest or an employee's duties or obligations. Moran v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 973 A.2d 1024 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009). Where the claimant is discharged for a work rule violation, the employer has the burden to show that the claimant was aware that the work rule existed and that the claimant violated the rule. Roberts v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 977 A.2d 12 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009). Moreover, the employer must also establish that the claimant's actions were intentional or deliberate, Tongel v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 501 A.2d 716 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1985), and the employee's actions must be considered in light of all of the circumstances, including the reasons for his or her noncompliance with the employer's directives. Navickas v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 567 Pa. 298, 787 A.2d 284 (2001).

If the employer meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the claimant to demonstrate good cause for her conduct. Department of Corrections v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 943 A.2d 1011 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008). Physical illness can constitute good cause for a claimant's noncompliance with an employer's directive. Brillhart v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 447 A.2d 697 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982). To establish such a ...

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