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Oleszczuk v. Department of Employment Security

December 17, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 00 L5 0337 Honorable Alexander P. White, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill


Plaintiff Stephanie Oleszczuk appeals from an order of the circuit court confirming a decision of the Board of Review of the Department of Employment Security (Board of Review or Board) which denied her application for unemployment benefits. Plaintiff claims that her behavior does not amount to misconduct as that word is defined in the Unemployment Insurance Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 405/602(A) (West 1998)). She also claims that the circuit court's decision was contrary to law because it was not based upon the findings of the Board and that the referee failed to properly develop the record at the administrative hearing. We agree with the argument of plaintiff about the meaning of "misconduct" under the Act. We reverse and remand with instructions.

The record shows that on September 8, 1990, plaintiff was hired by Coaster of America as a customer service representative. On December 1, 1999, Coaster sent her to a two-day training session in Los Angeles, California, to learn a new computer system. She was fired for insubordination two days after she returned from training.

Plaintiff then applied for unemployment compensation benefits. These were denied on the ground that she had been fired for misconduct within the meaning of section 602(A) of the Act (820 ILCS 405/602(A) (West 1998)). Plaintiff filed an appeal with her local Illinois Department of Employment Security office. She alleged in her appeal that after she returned from the training session, her office manager, Barbara Melendez, was not receptive to learning about the new computer system from plaintiff and refused to cooperate with her. On the day she was fired, plaintiff heard Melendez tell clients that plaintiff had gone to California for a free vacation and did not attend the training session. Plaintiff also denied that she had ever shouted at her supervisors. A claims adjudicator affirmed the denial of benefits and the matter was set for a hearing before a referee.

At the hearing, Melendez testified that she had fired plaintiff: (1) for insubordination for telling Melendez that plaintiff had not learned certain tasks regarding shipping and credits at the training session in California because "things were down in California" and "she, you know, couldn't teach me how to do that"; and (2) for yelling at Melendez. In plaintiff's presence, Melendez had called Margie, a member of the training staff in California, and learned that plaintiff had been taught the various tasks that she had denied learning. During the call, plaintiff started "yelling, saying that she did have notes." When asked by the referee to clarify what she meant, Melendez responded:

"She said she had notes on how to learn it, but she never showed me those notes and she told me that when she was there that the things were down and that she couldn't learn how to do it. And Margie, you know, confirmed that she was taught how to do it."

Melendez admitted that plaintiff had never received warnings about her conduct or behavior at work.

Plaintiff testified that after she returned from California, she conducted a training session to teach other employees the new system. In the middle of the session, although plaintiff was teaching a different task at that time, Melendez asked her to teach her how to do "shipping." Plaintiff responded that she wanted to keep to her curriculum and would teach Melendez the task at the same time that she taught the other employees. When the referee asked plaintiff whether she had told Melendez that she did not learn "shipping" because the systems were down in California, plaintiff responded:

"There were certain things, systems that they were working on in California, yes. And yes I did tell her that, you know, we did learn what they could show us in California. I didn't say it was completely down, no."

The hearing referee then asked plaintiff what happened when Melendez made a conference call to Margie. Plaintiff responded:

"[W]hat happened was basically she told Margie that I didn't learn anything out in California; Margie said yes I did. And it went from there where basically it was, it sounded like I didn't learn at all anything from L.A., which I did -- I had my notes and everything with me."

Plaintiff stated that, although she became upset during the conversation, she never yelled at Melendez. She was fired ...

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