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Case Briefings

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Mitchell v. Lovington Good Samaritan Ctr.,Inc., 555 P.2d 969 (1976)

Facts: On June 4, 1974 Zelma Mitchell the petitioner-appellee was fired from Lovington Good Samaritan Center, Inc. the reason being alleged misconduct. Mitchell applied for unemployment compensation benefits on the 12th of June 1974, Ms. Mitchell's actions were considered to be misconduct by a deputy of the unemployment security commission. This then disqualified Ms. Mitchell from seven weeks of benefits pursuant to 59-9-6(E) N.M.S.A 1953. Mitchell's acts were being defiant, not using the proper attire, name calling and other conduct with evidence that it was done on purpose regardless of the employer's interest. Ms. Mitchell filed an appeal on the 24th of July 1974; the referee of the Appeal Tribunal reversed the deputy's decision and reinstated these benefits to Mitchell on the 28th of August 1974. After this appeal, the Center appealed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal on September 13, 1974 to the whole commission pursuant to 59-9-6-(E), N.M.S.A, 1953. The commission then overruled the Appeal Tribunal and reinstated the disqualification of the seven week period. Ms. Mitchell was then granted certiorari from the District Court of Bernalillo County pursuant to 59-9-6(K), N.M.S.A 1953. Last, on the 16th of January 1976, the commission's decision was reversed by the District Court and it was ordered to reinstate Mrs. Mitchell her benefits with judgment of the District Court, the center of Appeals.

Issue: The issue is whether Mitchell’s actions constituted misconduct under § 59-9-5(b), N.M.S.A. 1953 to disqualify her from certain unemployment compensation benefits.

Rule: The term "misconduct" was not defined in the unemployment compensation law in New Mexico. Also, the Wisconsin Supreme Court examined the misconduct subsection in their unemployment compensation act, but found no statutory definition of the term. So they formulated the following definition;

...'misconduct' limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful, intent or evil design or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee’s duties and obligations to his employer. On the other hand mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed 'misconduct' within the meaning of the statute (Mitchell v. Lovington Good Samaritan Ctr.,Inc., 1976).

Analysis: Mitchell’s insubordination, improper attire, name calling, and other conduct evinced a willful disregard of the interests of the Center. The reason is because according to the definition that was adopted by New Mexico on misconduct, everything that was mentioned to be done by Ms. Mitchell was going against what could and couldn't be done under the definition adopted. Not separately, but when taken in totality it was considered to be misconduct. Although every different incident was not sufficient enough to conclude misconduct, when everything was taken into consideration Mitchell’s conduct sufficiently can be classified as misconduct when under the definition adopted by the Supreme Court of New Mexico.

Conclusion: The decision of the district court is reversed and the decision of the Commission is reinstated.

Analogizing/Distinguishing: One similarity that both of these cases have is how both parties are trying to receive unemployment compensation benefits, but they were terminated from their job which makes a person trying to get benefits ineligible. A difference in these two different cases was that in Natalie's case she was terminated for only one reason, and that was failure to remove a permanent tattoo, she never had any behavior problems, complaints from customers or staff. On the other hand in Zelma Mitchell's case she was terminated for name calling, non-proper attire and being defiant which are situations considered to be "misconduct".

Application to Client's Fact's: In the case of Mitchell, the facts are really different from each other. In the case of Mitchell it is being questioned if being defiant, name calling and non-proper attire would be "misconduct", yet the definition was not yet adopted. In Natalie's case it has nothing to do with the same facts, just has to do with physical appearance affecting a business or not, nothing related to behavior. However I do feel that the ruling is applicable because, it is needed to determine whether the things that these woman were doing incorrectly were to be considered "misconduct" and good enough reason to be terminated, leading to no unemployment compensation benefits.

Rodman v. N.M. Emp’t Sec. Dep’t, 764 P.2d 1316 (N.M. 1988)

Facts: Rodman Billie which is the petitioner that was employed by Presbyterian Hospital with a position of a unit secretary for nearly eight years was terminated on February 17, 1987, under hospital personnel policies following a "third corrective action" notice. Before this took place there was restrictions placed on Rodman's conduct because of personal problems that were having a strong impact on her place of work. On June of 1986 Rodman was reprimanded for having an inordinate number of personal phone calls during her work hours out of the designated break or dinner time, which should not happen in front of patients, physicians, or department other staff. Rodman was not allowed to leave the hospital and was to try and make an effort to resolve her personal life matters on her own time because they were causing her problems at work. There was an incident that happened on the 15th of February 1987 where Rodman decided to make personal calls from work to her boyfriend’s mother, received phone calls from her boyfriend, and actually met up with her boyfriend in the lobby because she knew that her supervisor was at lunch. Also asking a hospital security to accompany her in case of a problem, thirty five minutes later she returned to her work station after having personal problems with her boyfriend. Rodman then continued working, but as her shift progressed many phone calls from her boyfriend were received and the supervisor frustrated with the amount of disruptive calls, as well as her behavior sent Rodman home. After this she was then terminated.

Issue: At issue is whether the misconduct which warranted termination from employment rose to the level of misconduct which would warrant denial of unemployment compensation under NMSA 1978, Section 51-1-7 of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Rodman v. N.M. Emp’t Sec. Dep’t,1988).
Rule: New Mexico provides that an employee who has been determined to have been discharged for “misconduct” is ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits 51-1-7(B). The court defines misconduct as ...'misconduct' limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful, intent or evil design or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee’s duties and obligations to his employer. On the other hand mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed 'misconduct' within the meaning of the statute (Rodman v. N.M. Emp’t Sec. Dep’t,1988).
Analysis: District Court concluded that there was substantial basis to decide that Rodman’s actions on the 15th of February when considered in light of the restrictions which had been placed upon her and her previous failure to comply and demonstrated a willful disregard for her employer’s interests. The substantial basis was how Rodman was receiving personal calls in her work station on duty, also this had been her "third corrective action" notice, and after being told to try and resolve her personal matter away from work the incident with her boyfriend happened on February 15, 1987. On this date all the incidents that occurred would be considered misconduct. Al though the evidence in the case is amendable to more than one reasonable interpretation the court concluded that there was enough substantial basis for the District Court to decide Rodman's actions taken place on February 15th 1987, when of course putting into consideration the restrictions given to her and previous failure to follow them demonstrates "willful disregard to her employer's interests" which define "misconduct".
Conclusion: The decision of the district court is affirmed.
Analogizing/Distinguishing: A similarity in both these cases were that both parties were trying to receive unemployment compensation benefits, because they both got denied for termination which makes any person ineligible for benefits. In both these cases, both parties felt that they were wrongfully denied benefits because they were terminated for something not considered "misconduct" in their point of views. A difference was that In Natalie's case the debate was whether not taking off her tattoo would be considered "misconduct", when on the other hand in Rodman's case the debate was whether her behavior as well as her bringing her personal matters to work was considered "misconduct".
Application to Client's Fact's: In the case of Rodman, the facts are totally different when it comes to the reason's why the clients were terminated. In Rodman's case it had to do with behavior issues, which would be misconduct when in Natalie's case it was something regarding her physical appearance. Even though the facts are not related, the ruling is applicable because the question is if the reasons for termination were considered to be "misconduct" or not. This will determine if their termination was fair or not leading to the yes or no of unemployment compensation benefits.

In re Apodaca, 769 P.2d 88 (N.M. 1989)
Facts: From August 1986 to August 1987 Mrs. Apodaca was employed as a counter helper with It's Burger Time, Inc. Ms. Apodaca’s supervisors never had any complaints with her performance at work. During the summer of 1987 Apodaca several times approached her store manager John Pena to ask the store owner Kevin McGrath, what would be his reaction her dying her hair purple. The store manager told Ms. Apodaca that he would have to ask the store owner Mr. McGrath, but apparently never did. A few weeks later, Ms. Apodaca dyed her hair purple, when Mr. McGrath saw her hair for the first time at work two days later he instructed the store manager Mr. Pena to give Ms. Apodaca a week to decide if she wanted to keep her new hair color or her job. McGrath wrote a letter to the Board of Review stating that "he had a good sense for his community standard and believe he could not afford to wait until this incident [took] it's [sic] toll on his business" (In re Apodaca, 1989). When Ms. Apodaca was hired she signed a company handbook which stated nothing specifying what hair color was allowed or not. When Ms. Apodaca received the message from the owner from Mr. Pena she decided to keep her hair this way. At the time the message was given by Mr. Pena he also suggested Apodaca to make up her mind quickly, so that if needed he could find her replacement. Two days later Apodaca let the store manager know that she had decided to keep her hair color purple, she was then terminated. After this incident she applied for unemployment benefits, the department determined that Ms. Apodaca as ineligible for benefits because she was terminated “for refusing to ...This was considered misconduct under statutory law. Issue: The issue in this case is if Ms. Apodaca by refusing to alter her personal appearance is collaborating with her employer's personal beliefs about acceptable community standard, had engaged in misconduct. The store owner is arguing, and apparently the District Court agrees that as long as the request is reasonable and Ms. Apodaca had enough time to comply, refusal to re-dye her hair from the color purple amounts to "insubordination and misconduct".
Rule: New Mexico provides that an employee who has been determined to have been discharged for “misconduct” is ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits 51-1-7(B). The court defines misconduct as ...'misconduct' limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful, intent or evil design or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee’s duties and obligations to his employer. On the other hand mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed 'misconduct' within the meaning of the statute (In re Apodaca, 1989).The department of unemployment benefits determined that Apodaca was ineligible for compensation because they concluded what she did constituted misconduct under Section 51-1-7 (B).
Analysis: In this case there was no evidence at all that Mrs. Apodaca's hair color significantly affected the business. Both the store manager and owner testified that they received no customer complaints about Apodaca's hair. Ms. Apodaca's supervisor just reported comments heard were nothing else than compliments. Under these circumstances, the Board of Review can properly decide that Apodaca's refusal to change her hair color did not raise level of misconduct. The court considered the letter written by the store owner of Burger Time. After all this the trial court is reversed, and the case was remanded for entry of judgment consistent with the decision of the Board of Review.
Conclusion: The District Court, Dona Ana County, Lalo Garza, D.J., reversed award of benefits to employee appealed. The Supreme Court, Ransom, J held that evidence supported departments award of benefits. The decision of the trial court was reversed and the case was then remanded for entry of judgment consistent with the decision of the Board of Review.

Analogizing/Distinguishing: The similarity that both these cases had was that both parties Natalie and Lucy were terminated from their jobs because of not deciding to get rid of something in their physical appearance, which the employer did not approve of. Making them both choose either the removal of in Natalie's case her tattoo and in Lucy's case her dyed purple hair color. A difference that was found was that Natalie was asked to remove a permanent tattoo she had gotten that was visible to customer's which in my opinion was harder to get rid of than hair dye, and in Lucy's case she was asked to remove her purple hair color, given a week to get this done.

Application to Client's Fact's: In the case of Apodaca, I feel that this is the most similar to Natalie's situation. The rule applies because they both were terminated for "misconduct", and demonstrated what is known to be "willful disregard to the employer's interest". They were both terminated for not removing something from their physical appearance that the employer asked to be removed. In Natalie's case she can most likely relate to Apodaca's facts in her case. In both cases the question is if the workers were good employees without any proof of loss of cliental or an employee handbook with a rule stating that change of physical appearance in this case a tattoo and hair color change would not be tolerated, why were they terminated and denied benefits. I think comparing the facts of this case Natalie can definitely have a claim against NMESB.

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Getting Ready for a Midterm

...find that you would like even more time. I recommend that you enter the exam promptly since I will make deductions for those exceeding the 9:00 o'clock end time even if you enter late. Third, know that the legal reasoning essay will come from Module 4 on immunity. The variety of scenarios in that question will force you to think about and explain the nuances between sovereign and personal immunity, between absolute and qualified immunity, about loss of immunity, etc. You will want to understand all four cases from that module well before the exam. I will expect specific citations to the cases and the principles that they enunciate. An additional case that might be useful for you to look at is Canton v. Harris. A second question will address the rulemaking process and the principles underlying it. You should "walk into" the exam (in a virtual sense) with a clear sense of a fully articulated rulemaking process, so that you can pick and choose elements as appropriate in the case you will be presented. The third question will be drawn from the text regarding the Constitutional framework. Finally, remember that "open book" exams can be as challenging as closed book because the "bar" (the expectation) is higher. I think you will find that prior preparation will make a good deal of difference. As stated before, when you open the exam, answer the questions initially in word and copy it back to the exam. That way, you will not lose work, time...

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