Friday, October 25, 2013

Who Decides UC Claims from UC Referees? - COTW #165

This Case of the Week answers an interesting question: Who decides unemployment compensation claims filed by unemployment compensation referees? I guess I had never thought about it before - but they're employees and presumably get terminated from time to time and seek UC benefits. Then what?

In Henderson v. UCBR (opinion here), the claimant was a referee. UC referees conduct the "trial" level hearings in UC benefits cases in Pennsylvania. Here, the referee was accused of dissuading claimants from pursuing their claims, including Ms. Huffman (this gets a little confusing because in the Commonwealth Court's decision, the "Claimant" is the UC referee):
Ms. Huffman testified that when she went before Claimant, Claimant never turned on the recorder and instead asked Ms. Huffman why she was there. Ms. Huffman testified that Claimant informed her that her appeal was untimely, there was nothing that Claimant could do, and thus it would be a waste of their time to hold a hearing. Ms. Huffman further testified that Claimant never allowed her to testify as to why her appeal was untimely or why she qualified for financial hardship. Ms. Huffman testified that she withdrew her appeal because Claimant told her to do so.
I think it goes without saying . . . the referees are not supposed to do that. The referee was then terminated.

So, who decides whether this referee gets UC benefits?
The Service Center determined that Claimant was ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits under Section 402(e) of the Law. (Certified Record (C.R.), Item No. 4.) Claimant appealed the determination, and, because Claimant was a former referee, the Board assumed jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to Section 504 of the Law. The Board assigned a hearing officer to hold an evidentiary hearing and to certify the record to the Board for review.
So, the Board (i.e. UCBR) made the determination. The former referee (now-claimant) argued that the UCBR should have recused itself because it was effectively her employer and the judge of her claim.

Not a bad point . . . isn't there a conflict here? The Commonwealth Court says nope. First, the referees are actually appointed by the Secretary of Labor and Industry, not the UCBR, and the UCBR was not involved in the investigation or discharge of this referee. Furthermore, who the heck else is gonna do it? Or, as the Court described it:"[T]he rule of necessity prevents recusal of all members of an agency because an agency is either statutorily or constitutionally bound to carry out its duties."

The Court addressed a number of other issues but ultimately affirmed the UCBR's ruling that the referee engaged in willful misconduct and was ineligible for benefits.