Being fired for making an inadvertent mistake at work is not a reason for losing the right to unemployment benefits, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled today.
The court settled the case of Joan Dourney, who was fired from Panino’s Restaurant in Shoreview, where she’d worked for 11 years, because she served alcohol to a minor (see update below). Dourney said she thought a woman, who was accompanying a man she knew was over 21, was old enough to drink.
Her boss ordered her to card the woman, Dourney removed the drink, and then she was fired. But the restaurant objected to her unemployment claim , saying she was guilty of employment misconduct and, therefore, ineligible for unemployment benefits.It appealed the unemployment claim that was approved by the state.
Today, the court said “even if a reasonable person would have carded the customer whom Dourney failed to card and Dourney’s conduct could be considered negligent, (state law) expressly provides that inadvertence is not employment misconduct… Because Dourney’s forgetting to card the customer was conduct marked by unintentional lack of care, the conduct was inadvertence.” (Decision here)
The case, however, shows the extent to which a worker occasionally has to go to get unemployment
Update 10:29 a.m. 4/11 – The Department of Employment and Economic Development disputes two items in this post. Lee Nelson, an attorney for the department writes.
(1) The applicant, Joan Dourney, did not serve alcohol to a minor. A Department Unemployment Law Judge found, adn the Court of Appeals agreed on page six of its decision, that “We have no evidence that the individual was actually too young [to drink].” This would have been a very different case indeed had Dourney served a minor, and certainly a more sensational one, particular in light of the recent “Wally the Beer Man” verdict. But by all accounts the woman that Dourney served was at least 23 years old, and Dourney broke no law by serving her.
The “Wally the Beer Man” story is irrelevant to the context of the case regardless of whether Ms. Dourney did or did not serve a minor. The assertion that the woman was a minor was based on the reading that the server removed the drinks. I neglected to note that it was because the woman could not produce identification.
(2) Dourney was not involved in the case pending before the Court of Appeals. While Dourney was a seconday respondent, the Department was the primary responding party to the case under Minn. State. 268.1056 subd. 7(e), as unemployment benefits are paid from state funds. The Department drafted the brief defending Dourney’s receipts of benefits, and argued the case in front of the Court of Appeals. Dourney played no role at all in this process. The “extent” wo which Dourney had to go to get benefits was actually quite minimal; a year ago she filled out the questionnaires that the Department sent to her, and participated in a brief telephone hearing before an Unemployment Law Judge.
The characterization of the difficulty an employee often has to go to get unemployment is based on the assertions of the establishment, not the work the Department has to go to at the Court of Appeals. The initial post stated, in fact, that the department approved her unemployment claim.