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James L. Hafele & Associates v. Dept. of Employment Security

December 02, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit Peoria County, Illinois No. 97-MR-311 Honorable Rebecca Steenrod Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Homer

Plaintiff, the law firm of James L. Hafele & Associates, appeals from a judgment of the circuit court affirming the decision of the Illinois Department of Employment Security Board of Review (Board), which granted claimant Deborah Orth's claim for unemployment benefits. On appeal, plaintiff contends that: (1) claimant was ineligible for unemployment benefits because she was discharged for misconduct connected to her work; (2) the Board should have granted plaintiff a continuance; and (3) claimant was not entitled to unemployment benefits because she earned income as a self-employed Amway representative. Following our careful review, we affirm.


The claimant, Deborah Orth, began working for the plaintiff law firm as a secretary in March of 1996, and was fired on or about March 4, 1997. After a claims adjudicator found that claimant was eligible for unemployment benefits, plaintiff appealed. A hearing on this appeal ensued before a referee of the Department of Employment Security.

Shortly before the hearing, plaintiff requested a continuance because two of its witnesses, James Hafele and Melissa Madjic, were unavailable to testify on the scheduled hearing date. Hafele was unavailable to testify because of a court date, and Madjic, plaintiff's employee, was scheduled to undergo surgery on the date of the hearing.

The referee refused to grant a continuance for Hafele's testimony, noting that a prior court date was not an acceptable reason to delay the proceedings. However, the referee reserved ruling on whether he would grant a continuance for Madjic's testimony, because he wanted to determine if her testimony would be relevant.

Hafele appeared at the hearing and testified that he fired claimant after she feigned an illness on March 4, 1997. However, Hafele explained that the illness was not the sole reason for the discharge, as claimant had engaged in misconduct during the year in which she was employed. Indeed, she improperly ordered a report and read deposition transcripts at work, mislabeled court documents, interfered with Hafele's relationship with his tenant, and occasionally restricted other employees' access to the conference room. Further, claimant drafted and distributed an unauthorized memorandum, which purportedly came from Hafele, stating that toilet paper must be rolled over the top. Hafele stated that he tried to talk to claimant about her misconduct, but the problem persisted and continued to harm him and his firm. Steve Morris, plaintiff's employee, testified that he spoke with claimant about her abuse of authority, and observed claimant reading depositions at work. Morris also stated that he was given the toilet paper memo, purportedly from Hafele, in February of 1997, and knew that the document was not drafted at Hafele's request.

Hafele believed that the claimant feigned an illness on March 4, 1997, and testified that the claimant had feigned illness in the past and did not want an ambulance on March 4. Hafele told Morris that claimant's illness triggered the discharge, and testified that he would not have fired claimant on March 4 had she not feigned an illness.

Claimant testified that on March 5, 1997, Hafele told her she was being discharged because things were not working out and he could not handle the stress of what happened the day before, which she presumed to be her illness. However, claimant stated that she did not feign an illness on March 4, as she was very ill with breathing problems on that day, and went to the hospital that afternoon. She presented bills which showed that she received an EKG and two chest views on March 4, as well as a stress test and a trivial test on March 5. Claimant stated that she was diagnosed with an inflamed esophagus.

Plaintiff also maintained that claimant earned substantial income after the discharge as an Amway distributor, and claimant admitted that she was an Amway distributor. However, she did not know if she earned income from her work with Amway during the period of unemployment.

At the close of the claimant's testimony, plaintiff again sought a continuance so that Madjic could testify about claimant's alleged misconduct. The referee refused to grant such a continuance, noting that Madjic's testimony would be cumulative and not relevant to his decision.

The referee affirmed the claim adjudicator's decision, finding that claimant was eligible for unemployment benefits. Plaintiff then appealed to the Board, which affirmed the referee's decision. The circuit court then affirmed the Board's decision, and plaintiff again appeals.


I. Claimant's Alleged ...

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