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Con-Way Truckload, Inc. v. Wood

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

February 28, 2017

CON-WAY TRUCKLOAD, INC., Appellant,
v.
JAMES WOOD AND DIVISION OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, Respondents.

         Appeal from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission

          Before: Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, Lisa White Hardwick, Judge and Alok Ahuja, Judge

          Cynthia L. Martin, Judge

         Con-Way Truckload, Inc. ("Con-Way") appeals from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission's ("Commission") decision awarding unemployment benefits to James Wood ("Wood"). Con-Way argues that the facts found by the Commission do not support the award and that there was not sufficient competent evidence in the record to support the award because the evidence indicated that Wood was discharged for misconduct connected with his work as described in section 288.050.2, [1] disqualifying him from receiving unemployment benefits. We affirm the Commission's decision that Wood did not commit misconduct as defined by section 288.030.1(23)(a) and (b). However, because the Commission did not address whether Wood committed misconduct as defined by section 288.030.1(23)(e), an issue that was fairly before the Commission for decision, we reverse the conclusion that Wood is entitled to receive unemployment benefits and remand for further findings and conclusions.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Wood began working for Con-Way on October 7, 2010, as an over-the-road truck driver. On April 6, 2016, Wood accepted a load of an environmentally hazardous liquid for shipment in Pennsylvania. Wood testified that he strapped the load down according to company policy and starting driving toward his destination. Shortly after he began driving, Wood reached a highway entrance ramp. Wood misjudged the corner, taking it at a higher rate of speed than his load would allow, and overturned the truck and trailer. Con-Way formally terminated Wood's employment on April 7, 2016.

         Wood applied for unemployment benefits on April 14, 2016. Con-Way contested the application, and asserted that Wood was terminated for misconduct connected with work. In particular, Con-Way stated that "Wood failed to maintain control of assigned tractor, overturned the assigned tractor or trailer, and failed to maintain a satisfactory safety record which are grounds for automatic discharge pursuant to . . . [the] Employee Handbook." Con-Way attached a copy of the employee handbook to its protest letter and made reference to three provisions set forth in written employee conduct policies. The relevant employee conduct policies provide:

         Examples for Automatic Discharge:

The following are merely illustrative, not exclusive, of those activities that may result in automatic discharge. Automatic discharge may occur for any reason listed below as a commission or omission:
. . . .
14. Overturning the assigned tractor or trailer.
. . . .
17. Unacceptable pattern or history of unsafe driving, including but not limited to third (3rd) party complaints, moving violations, crashes, or CSA scores in excess of prescribed thresholds.
. . . .
30. Failure to maintain control of the assigned tractor.

         Con-Way's letter also referred to ten other accidents in which Wood had been involved while employed by Con-Way. Con-Way's letter indicated that Wood had been warned "that further disciplinary action up to and including discharge would occur if he had more crashes or acts of [an] unsafe nature." Con-Way alleged that Wood's accident on April 6, 2016, was because Wood "was driving to [sic] fast on an enter [sic] ramp to the highway. He was given a [sic] unsafe speed ticket for this accident."

         The deputy determined that Wood was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because Con-Way discharged Wood for misconduct connected with work. In particular, the deputy indicated that a denial of benefits was appropriate because Wood "was discharged because he was involved in an accident" as a result of "driving too fast."

         Wood appealed the deputy's determination to the Appeals Tribunal, arguing that the accident was not his fault because the load had shifted due to the shipper's negligence, and arguing that there was no proof that he was speeding. The Appeals Tribunal held a telephone hearing in which the referee described the issue as whether "[Wood] left work voluntarily or was discharged, " and if Wood was discharged, whether the discharge was for misconduct or not. The Appeals Tribunal heard testimony from a Con-Way human resources associate, a Con-Way safety analyst, and Wood. The Con-Way safety analyst testified that when Wood reported the accident, he stated that he "took [the entrance ramp] too fast" though he did not know his exact speed. ...


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