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Jackson v. Bryan Foods

April 07, 1998

JACKSON
v.
BRYAN FOODS



Before McMILLIN, P.j., Herring, And Hinkebein, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMILLIN, P.j.

KIM Y. JACKSON, APPELLANT v. BRYAN FOODS AND MISSISSIPPI EMPLOYMENT SECURITY COMMISSION, APPELLEES

THIS OPINION IS NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION AND MAY NOT BE CITED, PURSUANT TO M.R.A.P. 35-B

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/02/97

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. BARRY W. FORD

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LEE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - STATE BOARDS AND AGENCIES (OTHER THAN WORKER'S COMPENSATION)

TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: THE CIRCUIT COURT AFFIRMED THE DECISION OF THE MESC BOARD OF REVIEW WHICH FOUND THAT JACKSON WAS DISQUALIFIED FROM RECEIVING BENEFITS DUE TO MISCONDUCT.

DISPOSITION AFFIRMED - 4/7/98

The appellant in this case, Kim Jackson, was observed to be using a tape recording device to record conversations with her supervisor and was ordered to refrain from that practice by the supervisor. However, it was later discovered that she had persisted in the practice surreptiously. She was terminated from employment based on this wilful failure to follow the directive of her supervisor. Her application for unemployment compensation was denied based on the finding that she was terminated for misconduct within the meaning of section 71-5-513A(1)(b) of the Mississippi Code. She appealed this disqualification to the circuit court. That court affirmed the decision of the Mississippi Unemployment Security Commission, prompting this appeal. We affirm.

There is no dispute as to the facts of this case. Therefore, the only basis for this Court to interfere with the decision of the commission would be if we were to conclude that the commission had abused its discretion in determining that Jackson's actions constituted disqualifying misconduct. Jackson seeks to justify her behavior by saying that she had a reasonable basis to believe that her supervisor was being untruthful when reporting conversations between them to higher-level company officials. She argues that, so long as she had a good faith subjective belief that this misrepresentation was occurring, she was justified in secretly recording the relevant conversations in order to both (a) protect her rights as an employee, and (b) expose the misconduct of the supervisor to her employer with undeniable proof. She argues that, since this was her motivation, her conduct was not detrimental to the interests of her employer. In fact, she claims that her activities had the potential to actually be beneficial to her employer's interests if she were able to thereby expose the nefarious activities of her supervisor. Thus, she concludes, her conduct did not demonstrate the "disregard of the employer's interest" that is necessary to establish misconduct under the leading case of Wheeler v. Arriola, 408 So. 2d 1381, 1383 (Miss. 1982).

We conclude that this argument is without merit. An employer has the right to reasonably control the activities of its employees while on the job in order to maintain an ordered and productive work environment. In pursuing that goal, it is impossible for the employer to anticipate every possible activity that an employee may undertake and fashion a formal rule prohibiting that activity. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable for an employer -- especially a large one -- to delegate to supervisory personnel the right to give on-the-spot directives to employees that have as their purpose the preservation of an orderly workplace. We are satisfied that a workplace that featured a number of employees, each armed with a tape recorder and bent on recording at the employee's whim any conversations that occur during the workday, would be an environment that an employer could reasonably consider disruptive to the work effort. Thus, a directive prohibiting an employee from tape recording conversations occurring on the job would appear to be an order reasonably calculated to advance the best interests of the employer and well within the supervisory authority of an employer. It makes no substantial difference whether that directive comes in the form of broad company policy or as a directive issued by a supervisor to a particular employee.

In the face of such a directive, an employee may not be heard to justify her wilful disregard of the order based upon that employee's subjective belief, no matter how sincerely held, that the supervisor has issued the directive with the hidden motive of advancing that supervisor's own selfish agenda. An employee in Jackson's position may justifiably feel frustrated upon reaching a Conclusion that she is being mistreated in some way. Nevertheless, we are of the opinion that one in such a predicament must discover a more appropriate means to deal with the perceived abuse than to wilfully and surreptitiously disregard an order that is proper on its face.

Wheeler v. Arriola defines disqualifying misconduct to include "conduct evincing such willful and wanton disregard of the employer's interest as is found in deliberate violations...." Id. The commission found Jackson's conduct to fall within this description and, on our limited scope of review, ...


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