Chesterton Tribune

State upholds Martin firing of county worker

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that former Porter County Clerk’s office employee Margaret Hammond of Portage was rightfully terminated from her job by County Clerk Karen Martin last June due to insubordination.

According to appellate court’s account of the procedural history, Hammond routinely worked at the clerk’s office Portage location and was working in the Valparaiso office on June 20 when Martin asked her to attend a training session on June 24 at 8:30 a.m. Hammond said to Martin she “could not attend the training on time because of difficulties in getting up” going to Valparaiso office, the court said.

Martin told Hammond the training was required but Hammond refused and after an argument “walked out of Martin’s office, slamming the door,” the court said.

On the morning of the training, Hammond sent a text message to Martin reporting she was ill but would report to a training session on June 27 in Valparaiso. Hammond was given a letter of termination for insubordination by Martin when she arrived for work on June 27, the court said.

The Department of Workforce Development on July 14 upheld that Hammond was rightfully discharged, but Hammond appealed the claim on July 19, the court said.

An administrative law judge also upheld the decision on Aug. 3 and ruled that Hammond was not entitled to unemployment benefits. Hammond appealed the judge’s decision and asked that the Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development accept new evidence. The board subsequently affirmed the judge’s decision on Sept. 13 without taking a look at any new evidence.

Hammond in a further appeal contended the Review Board’s decision was not supported by evidence.

The appellate court’s order said that according to Indiana law, an employer may discharge any employee justly if an employee refuses to obey instructions. The appellate court upheld the administrative law judge’s ruling that “Hammond willfully disregarded Martin’s reasonable instructions to attend training in Valparaiso” and that Hammond’s arguments are “insufficient to prove that Martin discharged her with just cause.”

Martin testified that she “never considered discharging Hammond” beforehand and directed her to attend the training sessions after co-workers complained Hammond had difficulties with document scanning, the court said. Hammond had admitted to Martin that her scanning abilities were not sufficient, the court said.

The court found three arguments made by Hammond to be insufficient in proving Martin discharged her wrongfully. Hammond said she did not refuse the training but sought to postpone it to care for an ill relative but the appellate court dismissed the claim based on the determination of witness credibility by the administrative law judge, the court said.

A second argument Hammond made was she fired due to a violation over rules governing employee insubordination and absenteeism and contended that Martin “failed to meet her burden to prove a ‘knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformity enforced rule of an employer, including a rule regarding attendance,’” the court said. The court however affirmed the Review Board’s conclusion that Martin had the grounds to discharge Hammond.

Hammond also argued the administrative law judge performed negligence by not collecting further evidence into her claims surrounding her termination. The court said Hammond appeared before the judge pro se and contended that a law says the judge shall hear witnesses from both sides when either party is not presented by an attorney. The court dismissed the argument citing another law that says judges do not have to explore every claim, only sufficient facts.

Hammond is one of three employees who recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against Martin alleging their job terminations were based on discrimination and political retaliation.




Posted 4/19/2012