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PA Court Denies Unemployment Compensation for Claimant who Engaged in Disqualifying Willful Misconduct

On July 12, 2018 the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a decision by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (“Board”) denying benefits to a claimant who had been terminated from his job after engaging in hostile, abusive, and violent conduct towards a co-worker. Allen v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, No. 1460 C.D. 2017, 2018 WL 3383382, at *1 (Pa. Commw. Ct. July 12, 2018). Claimant had been terminated from his position as a quality control technician after he proceeded to instigate a confrontation with a supervisor, attempted to induce the supervisor into a physical altercation while mentioning a weapon, followed his supervisor in his vehicle, and directed highly derogatory and offensive language at his supervisor. The supervisor, who also used derogatory language toward Claimant, repeatedly sought to avoid a physical confrontation with Claimant. When the supervisor reported the incident to the human resources office of their employer, Claimant attending a meeting wherein he provided his account of the incident and was subsequently terminated. The supervisor was not terminated by the employer.

Claimant appealed from the denial of benefits by the Board arguing that his employer did not treat both parties uniformly and did not fairly investigate the incident. Disparate treatment of employees by an employer is an affirmative defense by which an employee may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. The Court found that there was substantial evidence in the form of voicemails and text messages from Claimant to his supervisor demonstrating hostility and attempts to engage in violent and threatening conduct. Further the Court affirmed the discretionary ability of the Board to identify the credibility of the accounts by the parties involved in an incident. The Court held that the employer did in fact treat both Claimant and supervisor equally in spite of the supervisor not being terminated. Although both parties engaged in abusive language towards one another, the Court found that the Board did not err in finding Claimant’s conduct threatening and indicative of an attempt to engage in physical violence. Precedent in Pennsylvania has established that simply because one party has been terminated for willful misconduct while other involved parties have not been terminated for the same or similar misconduct is not sufficient to establish disparate treatment. Therefore, Claimant’s conduct was found to have been willful misconduct which disqualified him from being eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.

For more information, contact the Philadelphia employment lawyers at The Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.