Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division
Appeal from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.
For Appellant: John J. Ammann, St. Louis Univ Legal Clinic, St. Louis, MO.
For Respondent: Larry Raymond Ruhmann, Jefferson City, MO.
CLIFFORD H. AHRENS, Judge. Lawrence E. Mooney, P.J., concurs., Glenn A. Norton, J., concurs. MOONEY, P.J., AHRENS, J., AND NORTON, J. concurring.
CLIFFORD H. AHRENS, Judge.
Erica Williams appeals the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission denying her claim for unemployment compensation. We reverse and remand for entry of an award of benefits.
Ms. Williams was a certified early childhood teacher at the Good Shepherd Infant & Toddler Center, operated by Favored, LLC (Employer), from October 2012 until her resignation in May 2013. Williams resigned because Employer was violating state regulations regarding child-to-staff ratios and dismissed her concerns to that effect. Williams filed a claim for unemployment
benefits through the Division of Employment Security. A deputy for the Division determined that she was disqualified from waiting week credit because she voluntarily resigned without good cause. Williams appealed that determination to the Appeals Tribunal, which heard testimony from Williams, Employer's director, Ms. Collins, and an assistant teacher, Ms. Brown.
Williams testified that Employer frequently exceeded child-to-staff ratios, neglected to conduct mandatory background checks on employees and volunteers, and insisted that staff answer all phone calls, forcing them to leave children unattended. Williams's classroom ratio was 1:10 or 1:16 depending on the ages of the children at a given time, but she sometimes had as many as 26 children in her room. Williams raised her concerns privately and at staff meetings in March and May 2013. Collins recalled only the latter and responded that Employer was in compliance by virtue of state authorization for " overlap capacity," which allows facilities to exceed overall licensed capacity by one-third for up to two hours but actually does not override individual classroom limits. Williams also testified that Collins threatened to " harden her heart" upon further complaints. Williams submitted her resignation the day after that staff meeting. She conceded that she didn't contact the Department of Health and Senior Services before quitting but explained, " I just simply didn't agree with what was going on."
Collins testified that she hired Ms. Brown in February 2013 in order to assist Williams and other staff and satisfy ratio requirements. Ms. Brown testified that she wasn't familiar with the state regulations and didn't always count children to ensure compliance, but she sometimes helped Williams when there were over 20 children in the classroom. Employer's log indicates that Brown was off work at least 20 days when Williams worked during the relevant period. Collins testified that, although she insistedthat phones be answered by the third ring, she never instructed teachers to leave children unattended. Collins conceded that she failed to conduct a background check on Williams.
The Commission found Ms. Collins's testimony credible but also was " convinced, though, that [Williams] believed [E]mployer was not in technical compliance with certain regulations." It further found, " although during some hours of the day the number of children at the facility exceeded the regulatory ratio," Employer " believed it was in compliance... due to [the] overlap capacity exception." (emphasis added) Ultimately the Commission deemed fatal that Williams " did not, prior to submitting her resignation, seek the assistance or intervention of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services... to resolve her concerns," further reasoning, " most average and reasonable employees would have sought the advice of the applicable regulatory agency, regarding both compliance and any personal liability questions, before simply quitting." Finally, the Commission did not find " ...