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April 28, 2011

Termination for violating the employee’s “last chance agreement” disqualifies individual for unemployment insurance benefits

Termination for violating the employee’s “last chance agreement” disqualifies individual for unemployment insurance benefits
Matter of Brown v Lincoln Ctr. for The Performing Arts, Inc., 2011 NY Slip Op 02982, Appellate Division, Third Department

Gloria Brown worked for as a security guard at a performing arts center for more than nine years. Brown had a history of disciplinary violations and after an incident in which she left her post without authorization, she and Lincoln Center entered into a “last chance agreement” that provided that her employment would be terminated if she committed further disciplinary infractions.

In December 2009, Brown met with representatives of the employer to discuss certain policy violations, including her failure to dress in the appropriate manner and to remain attentive at her post. The meeting was prematurely ended because of Brown’s behavior and another meeting was scheduled for early January 2010 with her union representative was present. Ultimately Brown was terminated and she applied for unemployment insurance benefits.

An Unemployment Insurance Administrative Law Judge concluded that Brown was terminated for misconduct and upheld the initial determination denying her unemployment benefits.

The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board, however, overruled the Administrative Law Judge and awarded Brown benefits, finding that Lincoln Center “had not enforced the last chance agreement by allowing claimant to commit other disciplinary infractions without consequence prior to the December 2009 meeting.” Lincoln Center appealed and the court vacated the Board’s decision.

Noting that insubordinate behavior and, or, disrespectful conduct toward a supervisor has been held to constitute misconduct disqualifying a claimant from receiving unemployment insurance benefits, the Appellate Division found that the record contained ample evidence that Brown became loud, boisterous and disrespectful toward her supervisor during the December 2009 meeting. This clearly amounted to insubordination violative of the last chance agreement and was the equivalent of disqualifying misconduct.

As to the Board's finding that the Center “had not enforced the last chance agreement,” the Appellate Division said found “the record is devoid of evidence” establishing that the employer neglected to enforce the last chance agreement with respect to disciplinary infractions committed by Brown prior to the December 2009 meeting and that Brown was somehow misled thereby.

Although the Center’s director of human resources testified that Brown committed some minor violations, the nature and extent of them were not disclosed. However, said the Appellate Division, “it was the employer's prerogative” to determine if such acts constituted a level of misconduct warranting termination and the director stated that they did not.

Thus, said the court, substantial evidence does not support the Board's decision awarding Brown unemployment insurance benefits.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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