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Johns v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

March 21, 2014

Christopher Johns, Petitioner
v.
Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, Respondent

Submitted: January 24, 2014.

Page 1007

Appealed from No. B-553793. State Agency: Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.

Jessica B. Michael, Pittsburgh, for petitioner.

Anthony R. Holbert, Certified Legal Intern, and Shawn Westhafer, Assistant Counsel, Harrisburg, for respondent.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE SIMPSON.

OPINION

Page 1008

ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge

Christopher Johns (Claimant) petitions for review of an order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (Board) that denied his claim for unemployment compensation benefits under Section 402(e) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law) (relating to willful misconduct).[1] Claimant asserts the Board erred in determining he threatened a co-worker, without considering the conditional nature of his phrasing. Additionally, Claimant argues the Board erred in finding he made a threat in the first instance. We affirm.

I. Background

Claimant worked for UPMC (Employer), a medical center, as a customer service representative for more than five years. Claimant suffers from an unspecified emotional disability, for which Employer provided accommodation through Work Partners. Employer engaged Work Partners to serve as Claimant's advocate. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 10a-11a.

Shortly before his termination, Claimant contacted Work Partners about going on short-term disability, while he changed medication. There was some concern that work stress would adversely affect Claimant during his transition between medications. When he could not reach Tanya Hughes, his advocate at Work Partners (Advocate), he became visibly upset.

Co-workers alerted Claimant's supervisor, Christina Vivola (Supervisor) that Claimant appeared agitated. In response, Supervisor asked Claimant to discuss the source of his distress in an empty office, away from the customer service floor. No one witnessed their conversation. It was during this closed-door meeting that

Page 1009

Claimant made the alleged threat against Advocate.

On the following work day, Employer's senior customer service manager and customer service director (Senior Staff) called Claimant into a meeting with a representative from human resources. Supervisor, who reports to Senior Staff, was not present at this meeting. Senior Staff advised Claimant that Supervisor accused him of making threats against a co-worker. At Senior Staff's request, Claimant submitted a written statement to Employer about his meeting with Supervisor. In his statement, Claimant conceded he was " upset with" Advocate when he could not reach her when he called. R.R. at 43a. However, he denied that he would " hurt someone." Id.

Employer then suspended Claimant pending an investigation. Ultimately, Employer terminated Claimant's employment, citing violation of its policy against " threatening, abusing, or doing harm to others." R.R. at 5a.

Claimant applied for UC benefits, which the local service center granted. Employer appealed to a referee.

The referee held a hearing. During the hearing, Claimant, represented by counsel, and three witnesses for Employer, also represented by counsel, testified. The referee reversed the local service center, finding Claimant committed willful misconduct. Claimant appealed to the Board.

After making its own findings, the Board concluded Claimant committed willful misconduct in that he threatened to hurt another person, in violation of Employer's policy. Bd. Op., 7/22/13, Finding of Fact (F.F.) No. 6. Specifically, the Board found that Claimant " stated that he was very frustrated with an employee of Work Partners and, if he saw her, he would likely hurt her." F.F. No. 5. The Board reasoned that it was irrelevant that Claimant communicated the threat to a third party, other ...


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