Kyle v. Beco Corp.

Decision Date07 May 1985
Docket NumberNo. 14940,14940
Citation707 P.2d 378,109 Idaho 267
PartiesMichael G. KYLE, SSA 519 56 4580, Claimant-Respondent, v. BECO CORPORATION, Employer-Appellant, and Grover Trucking, Employer-Respondent, and State of Idaho, Department of Employment, Respondent. Michael G. KYLE, SSA 519 56 4580, Claimant-Respondent, v. BECO CORPORATION, Employer-Appellant, and State of Idaho, Department of Employment, Respondent.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Mark R. Fuller, Idaho Falls, for employer-appellant, Beco corp.

Jim Jones, Atty. Gen., Lynn E. Thomas, Sol. Gen., Carol Lynn Brassey, and Roger T. Martindale, Deputy Attys. Gen., Boise, for respondent Dept. of Employment.

Teresa L. Sturm and Gregory L. Crockett, Idaho Falls, for claimant-respondent Michael G. Kyle.

Grover Trucking, employer-respondent, pro se.

Barbara J. Miller, Boise, for Idaho State Bar, amicus curiae.

SHEPARD, Justice.

This appeal from the Industrial Commission involves issues of employee misconduct; voluntary termination of employment by the employee for good cause; and validity of the commission's rules regarding non-attorneys' appearances on behalf of corporations in administrative proceedings. We affirm the holding of the Industrial Commission, that claimant is entitled to unemployment compensation and that the employer corporation is not entitled to have a lay representative act as its attorney during the commission's proceedings.

Although the employer challenges the findings of the commission as being unsupported by the evidence, we view the commission's holding on the facts as being exceptionally well-supported and we therefore affirm it in full.

The claimant first began working for the Beco Corporation in July 1981. Beco is a general contractor specializing in environmental landscaping and reclamation, building campgrounds, parks, and playgrounds. Claimant left work at Beco in September but returned in November 1981. Claimant's work at Beco involved driving trucks, operating equipment, and doing general labor. His wage ranged between $7.50 and $13.00, depending on the prevailing rate for the particular work he was doing; since Beco was handling federal contracts, it was obligated to pay its employees the prevailing wage, according to the type of work done.

In December 1981, claimant began working on a Beco project in Utah. The project was discontinued in January 1982, because of weather conditions, and claimant was reassigned by the company to Idaho Falls to do shop work, including cutting wood, shoveling snow, maintaining equipment, and doing general cleaning. Beco intended this assignment as temporary and planned to return its employees to regular work upon the weather conditions' improving. Claimant worked for two days before being told he was only earning $3.35 per hour. Beco offered claimant unlimited working hours, in order to render him ineligible to collect unemployment compensation.

Upon learning that he was being paid only $3.35 per hour, claimant attempted to negotiate with his employer for either a higher salary or a part-time position which would allow him to collect supplemental unemployment benefits. The employer refused to give him either, and claimant then voluntarily quit.

Claimant filed for unemployment. The commission initially granted him benefits. The employer negotiated with the Department of Employment, and the parties reached an agreement whereby Beco rehired claimant into a half-time position at an hourly wage of $5.50.

Within a month after this rehire, Beco again fired claimant from his job. The commission made the following factual findings regarding the circumstances under which claimant's employment was terminated:

"Beck [president and sole stockholder of Beco] was not happy about paying the claimant $5.50 per hour when he was rehired. As a result of his irritation, he reemphasized to the claimant's supervisor Beco's policy that employees are warned for the first violation of company rules and discharged for the second. The claimant's supervisor told the claimant to be a model employee or he would be fired.

* * *

* * *

"One of Beco's rules requires that employees not report to work drunk, or with a hangover. During prior periods of employment with Beco in about 1980 and 1981, the claimant was warned about reporting to work drunk or with a hangover. On February 2, the claimant had a headache when he reported to work. He had consumed alcohol the previous evening. He had no nausea, dizziness, shakiness, or other hangover symptoms on February 2. He took some aspirin and his headache was gone after one to one and a half hours. His duties that morning consisted of cleaning up and rearranging an area of the shop where paint was stored. There was no evidence that the claimant's condition on February 2 affected his job performance.

* * *

* * *

"On about February 4, the claimant was approximately one minute late for work. On Beck's instructions the claimant was discharged on February 5. Beck asserted that the claimant was discharged for the following reasons: 1) his attitude was negative and detrimental to an atmosphere of teamwork and comradeship; 2) he defied his immediate supervisor's authority; 3) he defied company rules by a) his presence at work hungover and/or drunk, and b) his continued tardiness without justification; and 4) he attempted to collude with his immediate supervisor for special treatment. The allegation regarding collusion with his supervisor had to do with the way the claimant's working hours were set. Beck was dissatisfied with the hours that the claimant was assigned, but there was no collusion between the claimant and his immediate supervisor. There was no evidence that the claimant ever defied his immediate supervisor's authority. There was some dissension among other employees because they were being paid minimum wage and the claimant was receiving $5.50 per hour. But the claimant worked well with his co-workers and there was no evidence that his actions on the job caused any dissension among other employees."

The commission found that the employer's proffered reasons for firing claimant were not credible, found that no misconduct had been proved, and awarded claimant his benefits.

The commission also noted that claimant's original decision to leave Beco's employ in January was justified and did not disqualify him from receiving unemployment compensation. The commission stated, in this regard:

"[T]he claimant left his employment when he found that his wages had been reduced to $3.35 per hour from $7.50 to $13.00 per hour. Such a drastic wage reduction (more than 50%) was a substantial adverse change in the conditions of the claimant's employment and it is a circumstance which would compel a reasonable person to leave his employment. Therefore, the claimant had good cause for leaving his employment on January 5, so he is eligible for unemployment benefits based upon that separation from employment."

Claimant is not eligible for unemployment compensation if, as provided under I.C. § 72-1366(e), he left employment voluntarily without good cause. The commission's holding, that claimant's voluntary decision to leave his employment was reasonable and for good cause under the meaning of this statutory language, must be viewed in light of Burroughs v. Employment Security Agency, 86 Idaho 412, 414, 387 P.2d 473 (1963), wherein this Court quoted the following from 81 C.J.S. Social Security and Public Welfare § 167, pp. 253-254 (1953) as persuasive:

" * * * In order to constitute good cause, the circumstances which compel the decision to leave employment must be real, not imaginary, substantial not trifling, and reasonable, not whimsical; there must be some compulsion produced by extraneous and necessitous circumstances. The standard of what constitutes good cause is the standard of reasonableness as applied to the average man or woman, and not to the supersensitive."

Accord Ellis v. Northwest Fruit and Produce, 103 Idaho 821, 654 P.2d 914 (1982). The commission's finding of claimant's good cause to voluntarily quit is reasonable and is supported by the evidence. We note also that this issue is arguably moot, the employer having agreed to settle it when it was first in dispute by rehiring claimant at a compromise wage.

The law relevant to the employer's termination of claimant's employment in February 1982 is also found in I.C. § 72-1366(e), which provides that a claimant is eligible for unemployment benefits, if the unemployment is not due to claimant's being discharged for misconduct in connection with employment. In Johns v. S.H. Kress & Co., 78 Idaho 544, 548, 307 P.2d 217, 219 (1957), this Court interpreted the statutory phrase "discharged for misconduct" as follows:

"While the term 'discharged for misconduct' as used in Sec. 72-1366(f) [now (e) ], I.C. has been variously defined, we think the term should be interpreted as meaning wilful, intentional disregard of the employer's interest; a deliberate violation of the employer's rules; or a disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has a right to expect of his employees.' "

Cited with approval in Cornwell v. Kootenai County Sheriff, 106 Idaho 823, 683 P.2d 859 (1984); Bullock v. CIT Co. Federal Credit Union, 106 Idaho 767, 683 P.2d 415 (1984); Parker v. St. Maries Plywood, 101 Idaho 415, 614 P.2d 955 (1980); Ortiz v. Armour & Co., 100 Idaho 363, 597 P.2d 606 (1979).

The findings of the commission, both as to claimant's initial decision to leave Beco and as to Beco's termination of claimant following his rehiring, are amply supported by the testimony. Where the factual findings are sustained by substantial and competent, though conflicting, evidence, they will not be reversed on appeal. Cornwell, supra; Bullock, supra. The commission's finding, that the employer's stated reasons for terminating claimant were pretext and not borne out by the evidence, is not an abuse of discretion. The...

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