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Tracy E. Fearn v. David C. Steed and Marsha Steed

June 13, 2011

TRACY E. FEARN, CLAIMANT-RESPONDENT,
v.
DAVID C. STEED AND MARSHA STEED, RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS, AND IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT ON APPEAL.



Appeal from the Industrial Commission of the State of Idaho. The decision of the Industrial Commission is affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Horton, Justice

2011 Opinion No. 72

Stephen Kenyon, Clerk

This case is an appeal from the Idaho Industrial Commission (the Industrial Commission or Commission) by David C. Steed (Steed) and Marsha Steed (collectively the Steeds). The Steeds are the former employers of Tracy Fearn (Fearn). Fearn handed in her resignation on April 1, 2009, with her last day to be April 8, 2009. On April 3, 2009, she sent an email that included her personal contact information to approximately 7,500 sales contacts. Upon finding out about this email, the Steeds terminated Fearn's employment. Following consideration by the Idaho Department of Labor (IDOL), an appeals examiner, and twice by the Industrial Commission, the Commission determined that the Steeds had failed to show that Fearn was discharged for misconduct. The Steeds now appeal. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Steeds own a business that resells agricultural, forestry, transportation, and material handling equipment. Fearn was initially hired by the Steeds in January 2002, after meeting through their church. Fearn was initially employed as an office helper but eventually became a salesperson. During this time, Steed, who ran the business, made comments about Fearn's attendance at church, inquired into her romantic life, and lectured her about her son, her church attendance, and her finances. Fearn approached Steed about these comments, telling him that these issues were none of his business, but the comments continued. Fearn has also argued that she was treated differently from the other salespersons and paid a different commission.

On April 1, 2009, Fearn gave notice that she was resigning. Steed and Fearn agreed that Fearn would work shortened hours and receive full pay until April 8, 2009. On April 3, 2009, Fearn sent an email to approximately 7,500 sales contacts stating that she would be leaving the company. After receiving ten to fifteen calls asking why she was leaving, Fearn sent a second email to the sales contacts giving her personal contact information. Steed concluded that the second email was intended to steal these clients and discharged Fearn on April 6.

Fearn applied for unemployment benefits. The IDOL concluded that Fearn had quit without good cause and was ineligible for benefits. Fearn then filed an appeal, and an appeals examiner held a hearing on May 28, 2009. The appeals examiner issued a decision affirming the finding that Fearn quit without good cause.

Fearn then appealed to the Industrial Commission. The Commission conducted a de novo review of the record, although the Commission denied Fearn's request for additional witnesses. On August 31, 2009, the Commission issued its Decision and Order, basing its decision on an examination of whether Fearn had quit with good cause. The Commission concluded that Fearn had failed to show that she was treated differently with regard to sales credit and that the disputes between Steed and Fearn over her performance did not constitute good cause. However, the Commission found that the pattern of Steed's comments about Fearn's religion and personal life did constitute good cause to quit. It found that her attempts to resolve the issue on multiple occasions exhausted all viable options to address the problem. Consequently, the Commission determined that Fearn was eligible for unemployment benefits.

The Steeds timely moved for reconsideration, arguing that the Commission erred in determining Fearn's eligibility based on her reasons for resigning but should have, instead, looked to the reasons for her termination. They further argued that substantial and competent evidence did not support the Commission's finding that Fearn had good cause to quit. In reaching its decision, the Commission's factual findings included the following:

That Fearn had never been told that she had to have Steed review all of her emails.

That the expectation that a supervisor review all emails does not flow normally from the employment relationship.

That emailing sales contacts did not violate any communicated expectations or expectation that naturally flowed from the employment relationship.

That Fearn has not stated or implied that she would be working for someone else. That her email did not ...


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