In the course of his employment with the Defendant, the Plaintiff thought he was wrongfully denied a raise. The Plaintiff complained to his manager, which led to an altercation. The parties had different versions as to the details of the altercation, but the Plaintiff was eventually terminated without receiving a warning. Plaintiff filed for unemployment benefits and the Defendant explained that the Plaintiff was terminated for fighting – which amounted to a “sufficiently serious,” offense warranting termination without a warning per the employee handbook.
When evaluating the testimony of the Plaintiff and Defendant as to events that unfolded during the altercation, the Board accepted some of the Defendant’s testimony but found the Plaintiff’s story more believable. The Plaintiff testified that he entered an area he routinely accessed to speak with his superior, who escalated the conversation by repeatedly threatening to terminate the Plaintiff. According to a witness for the Defendant, the Plaintiff entered a restricted area to confront his manager by screaming and acting aggressively. Though the Board thought the Plaintiff behaved “unprofessionally,” it found that the Defendant failed to prove that the Plaintiff’s conduct was “willful” or “wanton” to warrant immediate termination for just cause.
Defendant appealed to the Superior Court, which has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the Board’s decisions. The Court defers to the Board’s factual findings and its application of the law to the facts were supported by substantial evidence and without legal error. Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” The Defendant bears the burden that the termination was based on just cause. A warning is generally required unless the employee’s conduct is “sufficiently serious”, and that is a factual question for the Board.
The Court found that the Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and as such, must be upheld. The Court concluded that the Board correctly observed the law before applying it to Defendant’s evidence and the Defendant did not present sufficient evidence to convince the Board that the Plaintiff’s conduct rose to the level where he could be terminated for just cause without warning. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Board’s decision.
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Tesla Industries, Inc. v. Unempl. Ins. App. Bd., 2021 WL 4622405 (Del. Super. Oct. 7, 2021)