A new California Supreme Court case (Paratransit, Inc. v. CUIAB) wins my nomination for “least necessary litigation of the year”. In that case, a worker was given a disciplinary notice by his employer. The worker disagreed with the facts stated in the notice. The employer instructed the worker to sign the notice to acknowledge receipt. The worker refused, because he disagreed with his employer’s version of the facts, and, he said, he wanted his union rep present. Under the contract, the worker had the right to the presence of the union rep if the purpose of the meeting was “investigative”. The employer explained 1) you aren’t agreeing with the facts by signing; and, 2) you don’t have a right to a union rep because this isn’t an “investigative” meeting – we already investigated, and we’ve decided to discipline you. We just want you to acknowledge you received this document.” The employee refused. Whereupon, the employer fired the worker for insubordination. The worker then applied for unemployment benefits. The employer opposed that, contending that the workers refusal to obey the instruction to sign the acknowledgment was “willful misconduct”. The EDD staff agreed – no unemployment benefits. The worker appealed to the next step at EDD: a hearing before an ALJ. The ALJ agreed with the employer: refusal to obey the instruction to sign to acknowledge receipt was willful misconduct. No benefits. The worker appealed to the full “Board”. The Board reversed the ALJ, finding that the worker was wrong about the right to have a union rep present, but that the worker’s position was a mistaken position held in good faith, and a good faith mistake isn’t willful misconduct. So, the Board awarded benefits. Then, believe it or not, the employer could not swallow that defeat: it sued the Board in Superior Court. The Superior Court judge backed the employer – the contract was clear: no right to a union rep unless it was an investigatory meeting, and the investigation was over. So, the worker was being pig-headed, and no unemployment benefits! Then, I am not making this up, the worker appealed the adverse decision in the Superior Court to the California Court of Appeal! The Court of Appeal agreed with the Superior Court Judge (but it was a split decision). No benefits! Then, the worker appealed to the CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT. Really. Well, the California Supreme Court has just recently issued its decision: workers who are fired should get their benefits unless they intentionally act badly, and, since the worker could have been honestly confused (after all, he didn’t have a lawyer with him to read and interpret and advise him as to the meaning of “investigatory meeting” in the collective bargaining agreement), the worker was fired for something less than “willful misconduct”, and he should get his benefits.
For pete’s sake, please take my advice, workers: if your employer instructs you to sign a document that says on its face that you are acknowledging receipt of a document, but not agreeing it is true, SIGN THE #@$@#$#@ ACKNOWLEDGEMENT! I mean, I’m very happy for the worker who got his unemployment benefits, but 1) the guy got FIRED, not because of the original misconduct, but because he refused to sign the acknowledgment, and, while it is nice he got his unemployment benefits, he didn’t get his job back; 2) because the guy was in a union, and the facts implicated a union prerogative, the union got behind the guy and paid a bunch of lawyers 10’s of thousands of dollars, and maybe much more, to litigate over a very modest outlay in unemployment benefits; but, you just can’t count on that happening for YOU, my friend; and 3) I am sure the employer paid 6 figures of attorney’s fees for this venting of its spleen, and how is that possibly justified in the real world?
You know what’s going on? EGOS. The worker, well, his employer gave him an order, and he wants to throw the union in their face. And the employer doesn’t NEED the employee to sign the acknowledgment; the HR person can simply annotate the form, “employee refused to sign”. Mission accomplished! But, the employer gave an order and, by Golly, heads will roll if the worker gets stubborn! Union Ego v. Corporate Ego, equals the lawyers earn a nice fee. Dumb dumb dumb.