Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission --
Summary of Wisconsin Court Decision relating to Unemployment Insurance

Subject: Gеnіа Wіllіаmѕ v. Αurоrа Health Care and LIRC, Case No. 10-CV-876 (Wis. Cir. Ct., Milwaukee Co., August 10, 2010)   

Digest Codes: MC 668; MC 669; MC 670

The claimant, who had missed a lot of work because of a death in her close family, became extremely angry when she saw posted at work a nomination of another employee for a service award based on the other employee having helped out in covering for the claimant during her absence. The claimant, who was standing in a  public area of the hospital where she worked, began crying and yelling obscenities, and yelling that she wanted to hit the person who had made the nomination.  Efforts to calm her down were unsuccessful, and after she again threatened to hurt the supervisor, she was sent home.  She was subsequently discharged. An Appeal Tribunal, and then LIRC, upheld a department determination that the claimant was discharged for misconduct, and she appealed.

Held: Affirmed.  Great weight deference is appropriate for LIRC's legal conclusion.  The Court rejects the claimant's argument that LIRC's decisions regarding misconduct in cases involving employee threats have been "inconsistent".  Cases relied on by the claimant were ones in which the focus was a provocation.  This case is more accurately characterized as one focusing on profanity and threats of violence against a supervisor.  LIRC has consistently found misconduct when profanity is used and threats of violence are made in the workplace and particularly when directed at a supervisor.   LIRC's conclusion that the claimant's actions constituted misconduct is not contrary to the clear meaning of the statute and is reasonable. While, as the Appeal Tribunal found, the nomination paper which the claimant saw was "poorly worded", the claimant had a duty to discuss the matter calmly with a member of management.  The circumstances under which the events occurred do not provide a basis for overturning the misconduct conclusion.  While the claimant argues that her actions were not misconduct because her statements should not have been taken as a threat and no actual violence occurred, the statements made were clearly threats, and the fact that they were not carried out does not affect the gravity of the conduct.  While this was an isolated incident, it was a significant disregard of the employer's interests.

Please note that this is a summary prepared by staff of the commission, not a verbatim reproduction of the court decision.

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