Refusing to discuss disciplinary report with manager equates to misconduct to justify firing: Appeals panel

By Karen Kidd | Apr 25, 2019

CHICAGO — A hospital employee's refusal to meet with a manager about a disciplinary report was misconduct justifying her managers' decision to fire her in 2017, an Illinois appeals court said in an April 17 ruling.

"The instruction was not unlawful," the Illinois First District Appellate Court said in its 10-page opinion affirming previous board and circuit court rulings that the fired employee was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. "And it was reasonable."

Justice David Ellis wrote the court's opinion. Justices James Fitzgerald Smith and Justice Cynthia Cobbs concurred.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security Board of Review previously found the plaintiff in the case, Patricia Persaud, was ineligible to receive benefits under the state's Unemployment Insurance Act. Persaud had been a patient service representative at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago from Dec. 10, 2012, until Sept. 27, 2017, when she was fired.

Illinois First District Appellate Court Justice David W. Ellis

Persuad's practice manager later testified that she'd been fired after she refused multiple times to speak with the manager about a disciplinary action report and her performance improvement. The manager testified that Persuad was warned that if she persisted in refusing to speak about the report and her performance, she would be terminated.

Persuad responded that she would not speak with the manager and "that I didn't have the right to terminate her," the manager testified.

Persaud had been scheduled for "major surgery" the following October, for which she had been scheduled to be on short-term disability leave, according to the appellate court's opinion. In her own testimony, Persaud said she refused to meet with the manager "because she was 'so stressed out' about her upcoming surgery."

After she was fired, Persaud filed for benefits under the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act. Northwestern objected, saying she had been fired for misconduct. A claims adjudicator found Persaud was not discharged for misconduct and that she was eligible for benefits.

Northwestern filed a notice of reconsideration and appeal of the adjudicator's findings. The case was referred to a referee who heard the case in December 2017 and found Persaud's actions had been "an error in good faith," but that she was not fired for misconduct.

Northwestern appealed the referee’s findings and in February 2018 the Employment Security Board of Review issued its final administrative decision that Persaud had been fired for misconduct. In its findings, the board referred to provisions in the Unemployment Insurance Act that includes employee refusal to follow an employer's reasonable and lawful instructions to fall under the definition of misconduct. An employer does not have to prove it was harmed, the board found.

Persaud filed her complaint for administrative review in Cook County Circuit Court, which last May affirmed the board's findings. Persaud appealed that decision as well.

In their opinion, the appellate justices reviewed the board's decision rather than the circuit judge's ruling.

The appellate justices found the manager's request to meet with Persaud "was clearly reasonable." The justices did not find that Persaud's arguments that the manager's request could not be performed "due to a lack of ability, skills or training" or that the meeting "would be unsafe," qualified as exceptions under the Unemployment Insurance Act.

"We find no clear error in the application of the facts to the law," the justices said.

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Illinois Department of Employment Security Illinois First District Appellate Court Northwestern Memorial Hospital

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