Friedel v. Quota, 2015-Ohio-4060

The Sixth Appellate District (Williams County) has reversed a trial court ruling which overturned the unemployment Commission’s (ODJFS) grant of benefits to a truck driver who quit his job. At the initial hearing, the truck driver claimed to have quit because his truck broke down and his employer refused to assist.

The truck driver claimed that the employer provided debit card did not have enough funds to make the repairs, that the employer refused to assist because he was intoxicated and that he had to summon his son-in-law to the scene for assistance, who had to drive eighty miles in the middle of the night.

The employer testified that his understanding at the time of hire was that the employee was able to make minor repairs, that there were in fact sufficient funds on the card provided, that the employer recommended he call his son-in-law because he was employed as a road services tech and that the trip was only thirty miles.

ODJFS found in favor of the employer denying the benefits and finding that the employee quit without just cause. The employee appealed. At the appeal hearing, the truck driver claimed for the first time that he quit because his employer asked him to violate federal regulations regarding down time for truck drivers who have driven a certain number of hours. The employee claimed that the employer insisted that he drive a route in violation of law. This caused an argument to ensue and the employee quit. The employer did not participate and the initial decision was reversed, finding that the employee had just cause to quit and was therefore entitled to benefits.

The employer unsuccessfully appealed to the Review Commission and then to the trial court. Before the court, the employer challenged the employee’s credibility by questioning why the employee set forth his most recent justification for the first time on appeal. The trial court agreed finding that the employee had really quit because of the roadside breakdown incident and found in favor of the employer.

ODJFS appealed to the Sixth Appellate District. There, the Court reviewed the standard on appeal. Courts reviewing decisions of the Unemployment Commission are to limit their inquiry as to whether the decision by unemployment is “unlawful, unreasonable, or against the manifest weight of the evidence.” This is a high standard. That reasonable minds might disagree is not enough for a court to overturn the unemployment decision so long as there is “some competent, credible evidence in the record” to support it. The Appellate Court found that the Trial Court had improperly considered the credibility arguments on appeal because there is no rule providing that a claim or defense is waived if not made in the initial application or hearing.

Accordingly there are lessons to be learned from this case:

1. Do not rest until the fight is finished. Here, the employer did not participate in the appeal where the employee’s ultimately successful argument was made. Credibility could have been attacked at this time, rather than improperly before the court. Therefore, make sure you are represented and are participating at all levels of the appeal.

2. The standard on appeal to a court of common pleas is difficult. Courts are generally limited to the record provided by ODJFS. The scope of the review by the court is limited as to whether the hearing officer’s decision was “unlawful, unreasonable, or against the manifest weight of the evidence.”

Please do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Ennis Britton Co., L.P.A., with your questions regarding unemployment.