OF JUDGMENT: 09/14/2017
LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LEE J. HOWARD
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JEFFREY CARTER SMITH COURTNEY
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: ALBERT B. WHITE JAMES RANDALL BUSH
Columbus Light & Water Department (Columbus LW) appeals
the judgment of the Lowndes County Circuit Court's
affirmation of the Mississippi Department of Employment
Security's Board of Review's (Board) opinion that a
terminated employee was entitled to unemployment benefits. On
appeal, Columbus LW claims the Board's decision was not
based on substantial evidence and amounted to an arbitrary
and capricious decision. After review, we find no error and
affirm the circuit court's judgment.
Teresa Darby (Darby) was employed by Columbus LW beginning in
May 2010. Darby worked for Columbus LW as a payroll clerk
with the added duty of assisting as a backup teller. Columbus
LW terminated Darby's employment on May 5, 2016, for
multiple violations, including: dishonesty, insubordination,
unauthorized use of company records, and multiple violations
of Columbus LW's internet-use policy. The handbook listed
the most serious misconduct violations to be: (1)
"[e]ngag[ement] in acts of dishonesty of any type,"
(2) insubordination, and (3) unauthorized possession of or
removal of "any [Columbus LW] property or record . . .
of any . . . employee."
On one occasion, a Columbus LW supervisor asked Darby if
while working at a teller's desk as a cashier, on April
8, she loaded five days of payroll. Darby twice denied
loading the payroll information on that date. Yet, Darby had,
in fact, loaded the payroll information. Columbus LW
considered her two denials to be examples of dishonesty and
insubordination. On another occasion, Darby sent an email
from her home to her work address that contained a list of
overtime hours for Columbus LW employees. Darby downloaded
employee overtime hours, employee identities, social security
numbers, salary information, and bank account numbers from a
company computer onto a flash or jump drive. Columbus LW
required such personal information to be kept in the office.
Because this information was downloaded onto Darby's home
computer, Columbus LW considered that action to be a
violation of company policy regarding company payroll
records. Additionally, Columbus LW investigated Darby's
internet usage at work and found, among other things: 30
minutes of news, 30 minutes researching Bible quotes, 30
minutes shopping at Walgreens, 15 minutes personal banking,
10 minutes Fitbit, and 10 minutes of Dr. Oz. Columbus LW
found that the internet use together with the use of the
employee information on a flash drive violated company policy
regarding the extent and use of the internet and external
Columbus LW's comptroller, Mr. Bernsen, testified that
Darby was the only payroll clerk and that Darby had been
asking for help entering payroll. He testified that she was
unhappy about having to work as a backup teller in addition
to payroll. He prompted an investigation into her efficiency
and found that Darby did not need help entering payroll and
had plenty of time to enter payroll herself without help.
When she denied entering payroll information while working as
a teller, Bernsen saw that as an attempt to get help that was
Darby recalled the question regarding payroll differently.
She agreed that when asked if she was working on payroll, she
answered, "no." However, as she explained, she
answered that way because she was not at her desk at all that
day and had been working as a teller up front instead. She
explained that when she was not busy working as a
cashier/teller, she tried to get some payroll time keyed in
while at the front.
Darby admitted to times when she barely completed her payroll
and other duties on time. She testified she would work
through her breaks and at lunch to get the work completed.
Columbus LW's payroll program required importing time
into the system through an Excel spreadsheet. Thus, regarding
the occasion when she brought home employee information, she
admitted to bringing home the spreadsheet, keying in payroll
time at home, and emailing the spreadsheet back to herself at
Columbus LW. She stated that because Columbus LW was not
going to give her any help, she had to take that work home to
get the job done on time. She claimed to be unaware that it
was forbidden for her to do the work at home.
When Darby first started at Columbus LW, her computer
crashed, and multiple documents she set up to make her
payroll job more efficient were lost. She asked her
supervisor at that time if there were any computer backups
for the local drives and was told, "no." On that
occasion, she had to recreate what she approximated to be a
year's worth of documents. She asked her supervisor for a
CD to use as a backup for those documents, and her supervisor
provided her with a CD for that purpose. Over the six years
she worked for Columbus LW, the backup CD evolved into a
backup flash drive. Darby would put the flash drive in her
purse to take home as a backup in case there was a fire in
the building. Darby claimed that Michelle Butler, ...