Woman loses appeal to Supreme Court for unemployment

By Nathan Bass | Aug 6, 2013

CHARLESTON – A woman who was terminated for missing work is still not entitled to receive unemployment benefits after appealing all the way to the state Supreme Court.

The high court unanimously affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County in the matter on June 28.

Petitioner Christine A. Stefanko was employed as an ink jet operator by Quad Graphics, Inc. from January 2001 until her termination on Jan. 11, 2010. After being warned regarding her attendance issues, both verbally and in writing, she subsequently signed a “Last Chance Agreement” on Dec. 21, 2009, according to the opinion.

The agreement provided that she would be terminated immediately if she violated company policy within the next 120 days. After she failed to appear for work on Jan. 8, 2010, she was terminated on Jan. 11, 2010, the opinion states.

WorkForce West Virginia turned down her claim for unemployment benefits on Jan. 29, 2010. After Stefanko timely appealed to the administrative law judge, the ALJ affirmed the initial decision, finding that “petitioner had received ample written warnings that absenteeism would lead to her termination.”

Stefanko then appealed to the state Bureau of Employment Programs, Board of Review and the board issued an opinion on May 19, 2010, that affirmed and adopted the ALJ’s decision in its entirety. Petitioner then appealed to the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, having exhausted her administrative remedies.

After the circuit court affirmed the ALJ’s decision, as well, Stefanko appealed to the state high court, asserting that the circuit court erred by affirming the decision without determining whether the “Last Chance Agreement” was a qualifying provision under West Virginia law. She also argued that the court erred in affirming the ALJ decision when the findings were made without applying the “rules of liberality” afforded unemployment compensation applicants.

“This Court has held: The findings of fact of the Board of Review of the West Virginia [Bureau of Employment Programs] are entitled to substantial deference unless a reviewing court believes the findings are clearly wrong. If the question on review is one purely of law, no deference is given and the standard of judicial review by the court is de novo," the opinion says.

“This Court has also held: Findings of fact by the Board of Review of the West Virginia Department of Employment Security, in an unemployment compensation case, should not be set aside unless such findings are plainly wrong; however, the plainly wrong doctrine does not apply to conclusions of law by the Board of Review.

“Upon our review, the Court concludes that the circuit court did not improperly review the Board’s decision nor did it err in affirming it. Petitioner had a number of absences, which resulted in receiving a written warning and a “Last Chance Agreement.” Subsequently, petitioner failed to appear for work after signing the “Last Chance Agreement.”

“Having reviewed the circuit court’s 'Final Order Affirming Decision of Board of Review' entered on May 14, 2012, we hereby adopt and incorporate the circuit court’s well-reasoned findings and conclusions as to the assignments of error raised in this appeal.”

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