By Sue Fernandez
ANNAPOLIS – A woman who was terminated from the Frederick County parks department because of an off-the-job drunk driving charge should not have lost her unemployment compensation, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled Thursday.
At issue was whether Maria M. Taylor, a laborer whose duties included snow plowing, could be considered to have quit her job.
Specifically, the appellate court looked at whether Taylor’s actions constituted a “constructive voluntary quit,” which was the reason given by the Board of Appeals of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development for denying her benefits.
In law, the “constructive voluntary quit” doctrine says that an employee “voluntarily” quits by intentionally failing to meet a condition of employment.
“It was a question of transferred intent,” said Michele J. McDonald of the attorney general’s office, who represented the state in the appeals case. “It’s a question of, `In engaging in voluntary conduct, did you know that it can render you not able to do your job?'”
Court records show Taylor argued that she did not intentionally quit, but was fired and so deserved benefits.
Taylor, who acted as her own lawyer in her case, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In its opinion, written by Judge Ellen L. Hollander for a unanimous three-judge panel, the appellate court said state law doesn’t recognize the doctrine of “constructive voluntarily quit.”
The court has sent the case back to the Board of Appeals to decide whether Taylor’s actions constituted misconduct or gross misconduct, which also would result in loss or outright denial of her benefits.
But the court determined that by choosing to drink and drive, Taylor had not “voluntarily” quit her job.
“Even though Taylor’s act of drinking and driving may have been voluntary, there is nothing in the record to suggest that she did so with the intention of being terminated,” Hollander wrote.
Taylor lost her job in 1994. As a condition of her employment, she had to have a valid Maryland driver’s license and a Frederick County Employee Driving Permit. To retain the permit, employees can’t have more than five points on their driving records.
In May 1993, according to court records, Taylor was convicted of drunk driving and twelve points were put on her license. Frederick County revoked her county driving permit in July and she lost her job eight months later.
Taylor filed for unemployment benefits and initially received them. The claims examiner who granted them noted, “insufficient evidence has been presented to show any misconduct connected with the work.”
Frederick County, however, contested the approved claim, and Taylor’s benefits were cut off — but only for 10 weeks, on grounds that her driving record constituted “misconduct.”
Both parties then took the case to the Board of Appeals, which ruled that Taylor’s failure to retain her county driving permit constituted a “constructive voluntary quit.” Because of that, Taylor was denied full benefits.
Taylor next sued in Washington County Circuit Court, which ruled that the Board of Appeals lacked enough evidence to determine that she had voluntarily left her job. The Court of Special Appeals opinion concurred with the Washington County ruling, and sent the case back to the board. -30-