Court rules against fired school employee

DOVER — A decision disqualifying a former school employee from collecting unemployment benefits due to a justified termination ruling was upheld in Kent County Superior Court last Friday.

Former Elizabeth W. Murphey School “house parent” Steven D. Pierce contested five points regarding an Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board’s ruling that followed his discharge on March 10, 2016.

The Dover-based school said Mr. Pierce was let go ”because he had used an improper restraint procedure on a youth in his care,” according to facts cited by Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. in a 12-page order.

Mr. Pierce maintained he was unfairly disciplined, a school witness was afforded credibility based on his ethnicity, the board should have excluded testimony of security video with technical difficulties, another staffer used similar restraint without being disciplined, and the school failed to provide evidence from police and incident reports, and a daily log book.

Judge Witham affirmed the board’s decision “because any error in the proceedings … was harmless.”

According to the order, Mr. Pierce did not request for the board to subpoena “documentary evidence, including police reports and witness statements.”

While acknowledging that the board admitted improper testimony regarding surveillance video content, the Court found that Mr. Pierce’s own testimony was used to weigh the appeal grounds.

“Nevertheless, the [b]oard came to the conclusion that there was just cause for termination based on Mr. Pierce’s own narrative, and in particular on his testimony that he held the youth against the wall in violation of his employer’s policies and Delacare regulations,” according to Judge Witham.
“Because the [b]oard did not base its conclusion on the improperly admitted evidence, its admission was harmless.”

The appeals board “found that Mr. Pierce was discharged for placing pressure on the youth’s chest and holding him against the wall when the School’s policies required that no pressure be exerted on his thorax,” according to the order.

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