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Robles v. Employment Development Department

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fourth Division

May 4, 2015

JOSE ROBLES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
EMPLOYMENT DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT, Defendant and Appellant.

Alameda County Super. Ct. No. RG10553752, Hon. Evelio M. Grillo, Trial Judge.

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COUNSEL

Gary S. Garfinkle and Maria J. Garfinkle for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Julie Weng-Gutierrez, Assistant Attorney General, Susan M. Carson and Cheryl L. Feiner, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant and Appellant.

OPINION

REARDON, J.

This controversy-which involves the wrongful denial of unemployment compensation benefits-began in January 2010 because of a pair of shoes. More than five years later, appellant Employment Development Department (EDD or the Department) continues to refuse to award Jose Robles (Robles) the benefits to which he would have been entitled absent the Department’s error, this despite being ordered to do so twice by the trial court and once by this court. (See Robles v. Employment Development Dept. (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 1029 [144 Cal.Rptr.3d 36](Robles I).) Most recently, in response to Robles’s motion to enforce writ of administrative mandate, the trial court in August 2013 ordered EDD “to pay withheld federal extension benefits, costs and interest in the amount of $45, 560.39, within 30 days.” Instead, the Department appeals, arguing that Robles is not entitled to benefits for weeks in which he did not certify that he was able, available, and actively

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looking for work in accordance with EDD’s current regulatory scheme. Thus, EDD asserts, the trial court’s order is at odds with both federal and state law. The Department, unfortunately, has shown itself repeatedly unable to see the forest in this matter, instead focusing doggedly on the bureaucratic trees. Having reviewed in some detail EDD’s response to the directives of both courts involved in this matter, we see no error in the trial court’s order and therefore affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

We take the following preliminary factual background from our previous decision in Robles I, supra, 207 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1032-1034:

A. Underlying Facts Pertaining to This Case

"Jose Robles testified without contradiction to the following at the hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) of [] California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (Board): He worked as a service technician for Liquid Environmental Solutions for four years until his termination on January 5, 2010. His job was to collect food grease from restaurants and other food outlets. His pay was $20.75 an hour.

"Robles’s supervisor called him on that last day for a meeting and told him he was suspended because of “the incident.” The incident related to Robles’s attempt to buy shoes for a friend in need at the Red Wing Shoes store, where company employees buy workshoes for the job every year with a $150 shoe allowance. Robles asked the clerk if she would measure his friend’s foot because he “intended to give it to my friend” who needed shoes. Robles reasoned that he had a good pair of shoes and his friend needed them more than he did. The clerk told Robles “that was not possible.”

"Robles explained that he did not have any “malintention [sic] of anything.” He knew the allowance was for him, but he could afford to give it to a friend in need and the company would not be jeopardized because he had other shoes. His intent was to perform a noble gesture for a friend. In his view there was a misunderstanding of company policy but no misconduct. He “attempted to do it and then I was told I cannot do it, ... let it go.”

B. EDD Denial of Benefits

Robles applied to [EDD] for unemployment benefits. The EDD’s “Record of Claim Status Interview Misconduct” reflects no employer information about the incident; indeed, the EDD investigator did not speak with the employer and indicated a message was left for the employer to call within a

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certain timeframe, but the employer did not return the call. The document reflects that Robles was terminated for violating a company policy. It relates that Robles attempted to buy safety shoes for a friend at company expense. Robles said he did not get the shoes, and the company did not know the shoes were for a friend. According to the document, Robles was aware of the company policy and that the purchase was for employees only. There were no prior warnings. The record concludes that Robles willfully disregarded his employerÂ’s interests.

"The EDD’s notice of determination states that Robles’s claim for unemployment benefits was denied because he “broke a reasonable employer rule.” After considering the available information, the EDD concluded Robles did not meet the qualifications for benefits."

C. Appeals

"Robles appealed the EDD’s determination, denying that he broke a reasonable employer rule and stating his employer did not cite any specific rule that was broken and he was not aware of any such rule. Further, Robles protested that he was not provided with the unspecified “available information” mentioned in the EDD’s decision, and such information had not been disclosed to him. Finally, Robles attested that he did not obtain an improper benefit or cause any harm to his employer.

"Robles was permitted to view the file, for the first time, just prior to the hearing before the ALJ. Over Robles’s[1] objection, the ALJ admitted the record of claim from the EDD file. Thereafter, Robles testified as summarized above. Robles also submitted a copy of his handwritten statement which his supervisor requested. Robles explained the following: “I asked the lady to have my friend’s foot be measured for I had intended to give to him. He had a recent home accident and needed safety shoes. I honestly believed I can do the noble gesture and not jeopardize my own safety. I had a reserve pair of shoes at home and fully confident I would be wearing one in good condition for another year or more. [¶] After understanding the limits of what I can do with my entitlement of annual shoe allowance or privilege, I deeply regret what I attempted to undertake and firmly swear would not do it again.”

Nonetheless, the supervisor suspended Robles on January 5, 2010. He received a final paycheck with no further explanation, effectively terminating him as of that date.

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The ALJ found that Robles was discharged for misconduct connected with work. In particular, Robles understood that the employer intended that its employees use the annual shoe allowance to purchase shoes. Robles breached “a duty of good faith and fair dealing when he attempted to obtain shoes for a friend who was not an employee rather than using the allowance for himself. [¶] The claimant may have had good intentions toward his friend, but in his actions he breached a serious obligation he had to the employer.”

"Robles appealed to a panel of the Board, which reviewed the record and issued a decision adopting as its own the ALJ’s issue statement, findings of fact and reasons for decision. The decision also noted that an employee’s misappropriation of employer property is conclusive evidence of misconduct and that here, the claimant was not allowed to use the shoe allowance for his friend because the clerk did not permit the sale."

D. Mandate Proceeding

Finally, Robles petitioned for a writ of administrative mandate [(Petition)]. Counsel requested a statement of decision which the court denied. The trial court denied the [P]etition, concluding that the administrative findings were supported by the weight of the evidence. [An] appeal followed entry of judgment.”

[We end our quotation from R ...


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