COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: MONROE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/27/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. PAUL S. FUNDERBURK. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS.
TAMEKA GLADNEY, APPELLANT, Pro se.
FOR APPELLEE: ALBERT B. WHITE, LEANNE FRANKLIN BRADY.
BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING, P.J., ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. GRIFFIS, P.J., AND CARLTON, J., DISSENT WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - STATE BOARDS AND AGENCIES
¶1. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) denied Tameka Gladney unemployment benefits after it determined she voluntarily quit her job without good cause. The circuit court affirmed. We find substantial evidence shows Gladney did not voluntarily quit, but was part of a reduction in force (RIF). Thus, we reverse and render the decision of the circuit court and MDES, and we reinstate Gladney's unemployment benefits.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
¶2. Gladney was employed as a full-time teacher's assistant with the Aberdeen School District. In May 2012, at the end of the school year, the school principal, Angela Irvin, held a meeting and told all the teacher's assistants she needed to lay off two people. She asked for volunteers. Gladney was the first to volunteer. After a second person volunteered, there was " a little drama" because others had wanted to volunteer. Regardless, Principal Irvin told Gladney and the second volunteer to write a letter by lunchtime stating they would not return the following year due to lack of funds in the school district.
¶ 3. Before writing the letter, Gladney asked if the pre-kindergarten room where she worked would reopen the next school year. Principal Irvin said no; the room would be closed, and the main teacher for that classroom would not be returning. Gladney also called the school's conservator, Bob Strebeck, and asked him if writing the letter would make " it look like [she] was walkin' away from [her] job or [she] was quitting or anything like that." He said no: " [I]t will not look like you [are] walkin' away from your job. You can always come back to the district and get a job." He also stated that he " appreciate[d] [her] steppin' up to the plate for the district."
¶4. Gladney submitted her letter on May 16, 2012, stating: " I, Tameka Gladney[,] will not be returning back to the Aberdeen School District in the school year of August 2012-2013 due to Lack of Funds in the Aberdeen School District. I will be returning to college in the upcoming year." (Emphasis in original). The following day, Principal Irvin announced that because " so much drama" had ensued after she asked for volunteers, she would choose the two employees to lay off. Gladney was not one of the two employees chosen, but Gladney was not asked or told to withdraw her letter. Her last day of work was May 25, 2012.
¶5. On June 8, 2012, Gladney filed for unemployment benefits. Although the school district initially agreed with Gladney that she was part of the RIF, it later changed its position and challenged her claim. After review, the MDES claims examiner denied benefits, finding that Gladney had voluntarily quit without good cause. The claims examiner also ordered Gladney to repay the $1,158 in benefits she received before the decision was made. Gladney appealed. The MDES administrative law judge (ALJ) held a telephonic hearing, after which she affirmed the claims examiner's decision. The MDES Board of Review ...