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Case Brief Essay

Billie J. Rodman, Appellant was employed by Presbyterian Hospital as a unit secretary for eight years when, on Feb 17, 1987, she was terminated under hospital personnel policies following a “third corrective action” notice. Prior restrictions had been placed on Rodman’s conduct due to personal problems adversely impacting upon her place of work. Rodman was reprimanded in June 1986 for receiving an inordinate number of personal telephone calls and visitors at her work station, which was disruptive to her own work and to her co-workers. Rodman was to have no personal telephone calls during work hours outside of a designated break or dinner time, in which event they were to occur in an area not visible to patients, physicians, or other department staff. When leaving the department for dinner, Rodman was to report to her immediate supervisor and was not to leave the hospital. Rodman was to make every effort to resolve the matters in her personal life that were causing problems at work. Nevertheless, according to the testimony of her supervisor, extremely disruptive telephone calls continued.

The doctors were beginning to comment on it. The staff was getting more distressed. According to her supervisor, “[A]gain we talked about the visits, the behavior at the desk. When it got pretty bad with the phone calls, Billie would slam charts, push chairs and be a little abrupt with the people she worked with.” Another written reprimand in November of 1986 warned Rodman that her job was in jeopardy if the disruptive behavior continued. The supervisor established restrictions prohibiting the claimant from having visitors at the department and instructed her to notify security if there was a potential problem. On February 15, 1987, Rodman began work at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon. She had spoken to her boyfriend’s mother earlier in the day to tell her that she did not want him to use her car as she had broken off their relationship. The boyfriend’s mother called her at work and told her the boyfriend had her car keys. Rodman told the mother to have the boyfriend call her at work.

When he did, she informed him that she could not talk to him at her duty station, and he hung up on her. He called her back and left a number where he could be reached. She left the work area and went to the break room to call him. After returning to her duty station, Rodman got another telephone call from her boyfriend who told her to go downstairs to the lobby to meet him and pick up the keys. When she refused, he told her that if she did not come down he would come up to her department. Claimant left the department to confront her boyfriend, and, because her supervisor was at lunch in the hospital cafeteria, Rodman notified a co-worker, a registered nurse, that she was leaving. Rodman testified, “I didn’t want any kind of confrontation at the desk, so I went downstairs.” Before she left her desk, Rodman called the employer’s security guard and asked him to meet her in the lobby because she anticipated that a problem could develop.

When Rodman got to the lobby, her boyfriend started yelling and forced her outside. In doing so, he tore her shirt. At this point the security guard arrived and observed them arguing. Rodman was in the passenger seat of her car. The security guard instructed the boyfriend to return the keys, but the boyfriend jumped into the driver’s seat, locked the doors and drove off. About thirty-five minutes later, Rodman returned to her work station, after having changed her torn shirt. She resumed working, but, as the shift progressed, more telephone calls were received for her in the department. The supervisor became frustrated with the volume of calls and the behavior of Rodman. It was determined that Rodman should be sent home. Thereafter she was terminated. Issue:

At Issue is whether the misconduct which warranted termination from unemployment rose to the level of misconduct which would warrant denial of unemployment compensation under NMSA 1978, section 51-1-7 of the Unemployment Compensation Law. Whether the events of a third party constituted the “last straw doctrine.”

“[M]isconduct” * * * is limited to conduct evincing such wilful or wanton disregard of an employer’s interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability * * *. [M]ere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed “misconduct” within the meaning of the statute.

Rodman had a history of wanton or wilful disregard for the employer’s interest and was discharged for the accumulation of those events, including the precipitating event. Rodman’s conduct on February 15, considered in light of totality of circumstances including her previous history or personal phone calls and unauthorized visitors, showed a—willful or wanton disregard for her employer’s interests–. Rodman did not comply with her previous restriction put on her by her employer which was ground’s enough for termination and denial of unemployment benefits. The last straw was applied in this case due to Ms. Rodman’s totality of circumstances.

Decision was affirmed by the courts in light that Ms. Rodman’s actions on February 15, which when it was considered in light of restrictions that where upon her previous failure to comply with those restrictions, demonstrated a willful disregard for her employer’s interests.

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