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Keller v. Ameritel Inns, Inc.

Supreme Court of Idaho

February 8, 2019

MEGAN D. KELLER, Claimant-Respondent,

          Appeal from the Idaho Industrial Commission.

         The order of Idaho Industrial Commission is affirmed.

          Eberle, Berlin, Kading, Turnbow & McKlveen, Boise, for Appellant. Corey J. Rippee argued.

          Lovotti & Grad, PLLC, Boise, for Respondent, Megan Keller. Alexander K. Grad argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent, Idaho Department of Labor. Douglas A. Werth argued.

          HORTON, JUSTICE.

         AmeriTel Inns, Inc. (AmeriTel) appeals from a decision of the Idaho Industrial Commission (Commission) granting Megan Keller (Keller) unemployment benefits after her employment with AmeriTel ended in June 2017. AmeriTel asks this Court to adopt a bright line rule that a one-day absence without notice is a voluntary quit under Idaho Code section 72-1366(5). In the event that the Court declines to do so, AmeriTel contends that the Commission's factual findings that rendered Keller eligible for unemployment compensation benefits were not supported by substantial and competent evidence. We affirm.


         This case arises from Keller's claim for unemployment benefits following the termination of her employment with AmeriTel in June 2017. Keller began working as a housekeeper for AmeriTel in April 2016. In early 2017, she began to experience extreme nausea and dehydration as a result of pregnancy. Because of these symptoms, Keller frequently missed shifts or reported late to work in the weeks leading up to the termination of her employment.

         AmeriTel has a policy that allows for discipline of employees for excessive absences or failure to provide adequate advance notice of tardiness or absence. Although AmeriTel's policy does not define "excessive absences," toward the end of May 2017, Keller's superiors at AmeriTel began to feel that her absences were excessive. As a result, her supervisor, Cody Black, was instructed to present her with a formal write-up when she came in to work on June 2. However, Keller did not report to work that day because she was ill. Black did not reprimand Keller. Instead, he called her that evening and offered to place her on a leave of absence until she was well enough to return to work. Keller agreed to the leave of absence and asked if they could meet the following day when she was at work to discuss further details. However, because Keller did not feel well on June 3, she sent a text message to Black to inform him that she was unable to meet with him that day.

         Keller was scheduled to work on June 4 but again she did not feel well. She drafted a text message to Black to notify him that she would be absent; however, the message was never received. Until that day, Keller had always notified AmeriTel if she was going to be absent from work. On June 5, Keller sent a text message to Black to ask if he was available to meet that day to discuss her leave of absence. After receiving Keller's message, Black spoke with AmeriTel's general manager about Keller's absence the previous day. At the general manager's direction, Black informed Keller that because she did not provide notice of her absence on June 4, AmeriTel presumed that she had quit.

         Keller applied for unemployment compensation benefits. Her application was initially denied on the basis that she was discharged for employment-related misconduct. Keller appealed that decision and an appeals examiner conducted a hearing to review her eligibility on August 8, 2017. Following the hearing, the appeals examiner issued a decision concluding that Keller was eligible for unemployment benefits because she was discharged and her discharge was not for employment-related misconduct. In August 2017, AmeriTel appealed from that decision. On October 2, 2017, the Commission issued an order affirming the appeals examiner's decision. AmeriTel timely appealed.


         The Idaho Constitution constrains this Court's review of Industrial Commission decisions to questions of law. Locker v. How Soel, Inc., 151 Idaho 696, 699, 263 P.3d 750, 753 (2011) (citing Idaho Const. art. V, § 9). Accordingly, "this Court does not 'conduct a de novo review of the evidence or consider whether it would have reached a different conclusion from the evidence presented.'" Serrano v. Four Seasons Framing, 157 Idaho 309, 317, 336 P.3d 242, 250 (2014) (quoting Henderson v. McCain Foods, Inc., 142 Idaho 559, 565, 130 P.3d 1097, 1103 (2006)). Instead, where substantial and competent evidence supports the Commission's factual findings, we are constitutionally compelled to affirm the Commission's decision. Barr v. Citicorp Credit Serv., Inc. USA, 161 Idaho 136, 138, 384 P.3d 383, 385 (2016). "Substantial and competent evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion." Uhl v. Ballard Med. Prods., Inc., 138 Idaho 653, 657, 67 P.3d 1265, 1269 (2003). "[W]hether the claimant was discharged or voluntarily left her employment, whether a discharge ...

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