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William R. Rigoli v. Wal-Mart Associates

November 3, 2011

WILLIAM R. RIGOLI, CLAIMANT-APPELLANT,
v.
WAL-MART ASSOCIATES, INC., EMPLOYER AND IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, RESPONDENTS-RESPONDENTS ON APPEAL.



Appeal from the Industrial Commission. Industrial Commission ruling appellant was ineligible for unemployment benefits, affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Chief Justice

2011 Opinion No. 111

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

This case concerns the Appellant William R. Rigoli's appeal from the Industrial Commission's decision finding him ineligible for unemployment benefits because he was discharged for misconduct in connection with his employment. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Appellant William R. Rigoli (Rigoli) was discharged on September 17, 2009 from his position as a toy department manager at Wal-Mart for using foul language and leaving before his assigned shift was completed. While at work on September 15, 2009, Rigoli had been asked to "step up" his work performance by an assistant manager in front of customers and co-workers. Rigoli was upset and insulted by the confrontation, coming after months of issues with this particular assistant manager regarding his work performance, and felt that he had enough and headed towards the time clock. When he reached the back room of the store he passed another assistant manager Matthew Laramie (Laramie) and let the assistant manager know that he was leaving. The assistant manager testified, after being told he could use abbreviations if he did not feel comfortable using the actual language, that Rigoli told him that he did not have to take "this F'ing BS from anyone" and after being told to calm down, that it was "GD BS." After clocking out and heading home, Rigoli called the district manager for Wal-Mart to inform him of what had occurred at the store earlier. The district manager advised him to contact the store manager. When he reached the store manager, the store manager asked him to come in for a meeting during his next shift. Rigoli clocked in for his next shift on September 17, 2009, was told that he could meet with the store manager later, and after working for a half hour, was discharged by an assistant store manager for abandoning his job and using foul language, and told to return later to speak with the store manager for an exit interview.

Initially, Rigoli was determined by the Department of Labor to be eligible for unemployment benefits, but his employer appealed his eligibility and a telephonic hearing was held on October 27, 2009. Rigoli and Laramie testified at the hearing. Laramie shared his version of the conversation between himself and Rigoli and testified that Rigoli's comments were made in front of other employees. Rigoli testified that he had used foul language, that he had "had enough of this BS" and that he did not notice other employees in the area when he spoke with Laramie. On further questioning, Rigoli also stated that "everyone in the store knows you don't use foul language ever in the store. [T]hat's one of the rules and we all abide by that, including me."

The Department of Labor appeals examiner concluded that Rigoli was discharged for misconduct that "fell below a standard of behavior the employer has a reasonable right to expect," and was ineligible for unemployment benefits. Rigoli appealed the decision to the Industrial Commission (Commission). The Commission filed its Decision and Order on February 4, 2010, affirming the appeals examiner's decision.

The Commission concluded that Rigoli's behavior was comparable to the behavior classified as misconduct by this Court in Pimley v. Best Values, Inc., 132 Idaho 432, 974 P.2d 78 (1999). The conclusion was based on the findings that Rigoli had testified to using foul language, and that Laramie had testified that the foul language was used in front of other employees. The Commission further said it believed Rigoli's testimony that he did not see any other employees in the area during his use of foul language, but that it did not discredit Laramie's assertion, that it was possible that Rigoli did not see the employees that Laramie testified seeing, and that Larimie's "assertions regarding the events [were] more credible in light of the entire situation." Rigoli timely appealed following the Commission's denial of his motion for reconsideration.

II. ANALYSIS

This Court exercises free review over questions of law when it reviews a decision of the Commission. Buckham v. Idaho Elk's Rehab. Hosp., 141 Idaho 338, 340, 109 P.3d 726, 728 (2005). "The Commission's determination whether an employee's behavior constituted misconduct is a factual determination that the Court will uphold if the determination is supported by substantial and competent evidence." Ginther v. Boise Cascade Corp., 150 Idaho 143, __, 244 P.3d 1229, 1233 (2010). Evidence that is substantial and competent is relevant evidence "that a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion." Buckham, 141 Idaho at 340, 109 P.3d at 728. Only Commission conclusions that are clearly erroneous regarding credibility and weight of evidence will be disturbed on appeal. Id. This Court will not consider re-weighing the evidence or whether it would have drawn different conclusions from the evidence presented. Id. All facts and inferences will be viewed by this Court in a light most favorable to the prevailing party before the Commission. Ginther, 150 Idaho at __, 244 P.3d at 1233.

A. Whether there was substantial and competent evidence to support the Commission's conclusion that Rigoli was discharged for employment-related misconduct and, therefore, ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Rigoli argues that the burden of proving misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence falls strictly on the employer, and that his employer failed to present any evidence to confirm that its assistant manager's testimony contradicted Rigoli's. The Department of Labor argues that the Commission's finding that Rigoli was discharged for employment-related misconduct was supported by substantial and competent evidence.

An individual may not qualify for unemployment benefits where the reason for unemployment is "due to the fact . . . that he was discharged for misconduct in connection with his employment." I.C. § 72-1366(5); Mussman v. Kootenai Cnty., 150 Idaho 68, __, 244 P.3d 212, 216 (2010). Misconduct as used in Idaho Code §72-1366(5) that is related to employment can fall under one of three categories: (1) a disregard of the employer's interest, (2) a violation of reasonable employer rules, and (3) a disregard of the employer's expected standard of behavior. IDAPA 09.01.30.275.02; Quinn v. J.R. Simplot Co., 131 Idaho 318, 321, 955 P.2d 1097, 1100 (1998). In this case, the disqualifying misconduct falls under the third category, a disregard of the standards of behavior. The finding of this type of misconduct does not require willful, intentional, or deliberate conduct. IDAPA 09.01.30.275.02(c); Ginther, 150 Idaho at __, 244 P.3d at 1234. Standard of behavior cases follow a two-pronged test, finding first whether the individual claiming unemployment benefits was discharged for conduct that fell below "the standard of behavior expected by the employer." IDAPA 09.01.30.275.02(c)(i); Desilet v. Glass Doctor, 142 Idaho 655, 657-58, 132 P.3d 412, 414-15 (2006). Next, the Court finds if the employer's expectation of behavior was "objectively reasonable in the particular case." IDAPA ...


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