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Ohio, Inc. v. Ohio Department of Job & Family Services

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

June 2, 2017

YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF DAYTON, OHIO, INC. Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
OHIO DEPARTMENT OF JOB & FAMILY SERVICES, et al. Defendant-Appellant

         Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2016-CV-2025

          BEVERLY A. MEYER, Atty. Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          DAVID M. DUWEL, Atty. Attorney for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          WELBAUM, J.

         {¶ 1} In this case, Appellant, Paula McLaughlin, appeals from a trial court judgment reversing the decision of the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission ("UCRC"). Previously, the UCRC found that McLaughlin had been discharged without just cause by Appellee, Young Women's Christian Association of Dayton, Ohio ("YWCA"). In support of her appeal, McLaughlin contends that the trial court erred by reversing UCRC's decision, because the decision was not unlawful, unreasonable, or against the manifest weight of the evidence.

         {¶ 2} We conclude that the trial court did not err in finding that YWCA fired McLaughlin for just cause and that UCRC's decision was unlawful, unreasonable, and against the manifest weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court will be affirmed.

         I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 3} McLaughlin was hired by YWCA as a Special Events Coordinator on November 7, 2014. She was terminated from employment on October 21, 2015, following an unexcused absence from work on Friday, October 16, 2015. McLaughlin and two YWCA employees gave differing versions of the events that led up to McLaughlin's termination from employment.

         {¶ 4} According to McLaughlin, she had received permission from her direct supervisor, Linda Menz, to take Friday, October 16th off from work. Transcript of February 10, 2016 Hearing, p. 8. McLaughlin received this permission from Menz during the week of October 9th. Id. at 9. At the time, McLaughlin was working on an event scheduled for October 13th and asked Menz if she could have the 16th off rather than the day after the event. According to McLaughlin, in the past she had received a day off after a big event in recognition of the amount of time she had spent preparing for the event. During her discussion with Menz, McLaughlin mentioned wanting to go to Michigan on the 16th for the weekend. Id. Based on Menz's approval, McLaughlin put a deposit down on a cottage in Michigan. In the past, when McLaughlin had been given the day off after an event, she did not have to submit a request for personal time in these circumstances. Id. at 30. McLaughlin stated the following regarding the approval she had received to take off from work on the 16th (id. at 31):

It was the Y-Women Breakfast was on October 13th and I had spoken to Linda, which was the Tuesday, I had spoken to Linda the week prior because I knew I had worked a number of weekends leading up to the event and also evenings. So, I had spoken to Linda and requested instead of the Wednesday, which was the day after the event, that I take the Friday off because I wanted to go to Michigan.

         {¶ 5} On October 15th, McLaughlin reminded Menz that she would be taking the next day off from work. But Menz reversed course and said that she was not comfortable with McLaughlin taking the 16th off because McLaughlin had a negative personal time balance. Id. at 10. McLaughlin was allowed 120 hours of personal time per year. Menz suggested that McLaughlin speak with Lilly Jennings in Human Resources about her negative personal time balance. Id.

         {¶ 6} McLaughlin met with Jennings and explained to her that McLaughlin had already worked excessive hours due to the big event on October 13th and that McLaughlin had always been able to take a day off after an event. Jennings said that there was nothing she could do. McLaughlin then went back to speak with Menz, who said that she was sorry because she knew how much McLaughlin was looking forward to the weekend and suggested that McLaughlin should try to speak to Shannon Isom, the C.E.O. of YWCA. Id. McLaughlin tried to speak with Isom, but she was on the way out of the office. Isom asked if the matter could wait until she returned in about an hour. McLaughlin waited but Isom did not return to the office that day. Id. McLaughlin wrote an email to Isom on the 15th about the matter but did not receive a response. Id. at 11.

         {¶ 7} On October 16th, McLaughlin came into the office in the morning and worked a couple of hours. McLaughlin tried to speak with Isom, but she was not in the office that morning. McLaughlin also spoke with Menz and alerted her that McLaughlin had to leave to go on her family vacation in Michigan. Menz told McLaughlin that she would get a write-up if she left early on the 16th. Id. McLaughlin returned to work on Monday morning. On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, McLaughlin was fired by YWCA after a meeting with Isom and Jennings.

         {¶ 8} Menz had a different recollection of the events leading up to McLaughlin's termination from employment. According to Menz, she was not aware that there were times when YWCA employees received informal days off because of working a large number of hours. Id. at 22. And she did not "specifically recall" any circumstances where McLaughlin was allowed to take the next day off after the day of an event. Id. at 23. Menz conceded that it was possible that McLaughlin received time off in the past without use of personal time after an event, but she did not recall any specific instance when this occurred. Id. at 30. Menz stated that October 14, 2015 was the first day on which McLaughlin had mentioned wanting to take off October 16th. On October the 15th, Menz advised McLaughlin that Menz was told by Human Resources that there was a negative personal time balance and therefore the leave could not be approved. Menz stated that McLaughlin "said she understood." Id. at 23. At first, Menz stated that she "never actually knew why she wanted the time, " but later stated that "I think she did mention it" and that McLaughlin did discuss with Menz that she had been working a lot recently and that was part of the reason she wanted to take the 16th off from work. Id. at 24. According to Menz, McLaughlin did object to the idea that she did not have personal time available. But Menz did not discuss with her where or how the personal time may have been used. Id. at 25-26.

         {¶ 9} Menz gave the following description of what happened on October 16th (id. at 26):

Paula came into my office at some point and just said she was leaving then and I asked if she had indeed spoken with the HR manager or the CEO and she said no. And, so I said, "I don't know what's going to happen to you if you just leave." And Paula at that point said "I ...

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