TCTA | Court denies unemployment to teacher discharged for misconduct
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Court denies unemployment to teacher discharged for misconduct

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A teacher filed for unemployment benefits after his probationary contract with his school district was terminated at the end of its term. His application for benefits was denied by the Texas Workforce Commission and he appealed, first to the district court and then to the court of appeals.

The Texas Workforce Commission argued that the teacher was not entitled to unemployment benefits because he had been fired due to misconduct. An employee is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if the individual is discharged for misconduct related to their work. Therefore, the court of appeals examined the reasons for the employment action that had been taken.

The teacher was employed by the district for less than one school year. During that time, he filed multiple complaints about what he believed were instances of unlawful drug use and drug dealing by students and a teacher. The allegations were investigated and determined to have no merit. The teacher was warned that continuing to make unsubstantiated allegations could result in disciplinary action and the investigative findings noted that "there is an evident pattern of false allegations against African American students and teachers ... involving drugs."

During the course of his employment, the teacher also received multiple warnings for poor job performance, failure to maintain a professional demeanor and falsely accusing an administrator of asking him to change grades. He was also reprimanded for marking a student absent when the student was present in class.

At one point, campus administration requested to meet with the teacher to discuss more than 24 student complaints that had been made against him. At the conclusion of the meeting, the teacher grabbed an assistant principal by the arm and threatened to file a grievance against her. The principal informed the teacher that his behavior was unacceptable and unprofessional and that he would be recommended for termination of his probationary contract at the end of the school year.

The next day, he was placed on administrative leave with pay. He was directed to leave campus and report to HR, but instead he returned to the campus and began screaming obscenities. As he was being escorted off campus, he hit the principal with his bag and stated in a sarcastic tone, "Oh, I'm sorry, that was an accident."

The court of appeals noted that, in the context of unemployment benefits, "misconduct" means "mismanagement of a position of employment by action or inaction, neglect that jeopardizes the life or property of another, intentional wrongdoing or malfeasance, intentional violation of a law, or violation of a policy or rule adopted to ensure the orderly work and the safety of employees."

As applied to this case, the teacher engaged in misconduct by falsely accusing students and teachers of drug use and/or dealing drugs, poor work performance, and assaulting his principal. Therefore, the teacher was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.