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Christina Duchene v. Employment Appeals Board and Wells Fargo Bank

March 13, 2013

CHRISTINA DUCHENE, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
EMPLOYMENT APPEALS BOARD AND WELLS FARGO BANK, NA, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Douglas F. Staskal, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bower, J.

Christina Duchene appeals from the district court order affirming the Employment Appeal Board's finding that she is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits following her separation from Wells Fargo Bank. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Christina Duchene appeals from the district court order affirming the Employment Appeal Board's finding that she is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits following her separation from Wells Fargo Bank (Wells Fargo). She contends Wells Fargo's failure to provide her with a reasonable accommodation was a justifiable reason for her to quit her employment. Finding the agency's decision was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious, and it did not abuse its discretion, we affirm the decisions denying Duchene unemployment benefits.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Duchene began working for Wells Fargo as a part-time loan servicing specialist in 2009. Duchene, who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2003, had a number of absences, which she claims are related to her illness.*fn1 Wells Fargo's attendance policy lists a maximum number of days an employee is allowed to be absent from work. Duchene received a final written warning for absences on December 14, 2010. Duchene was then absent from work February 15, 16, and 19 of 2011.

On February 19, 2011, Duchene submitted a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) request form to Wells Fargo. The form stated it was necessary for her to work reduced hours of twenty to twenty-four hours per week, four hours per day. Attached to the form was a September 15, 2009 letter from her physician stating he "would endorse her wish to limit her work schedule to 20 to 24 hours per week for the foreseeable future." Approval of her FMLA request would have excused Duchene's February absences. The request was pending when Duchene voluntarily terminated her employment with Wells Fargo on April 7, 2011, because she was fearful of being terminated for exceeding the number of absences allowed by Wells Fargo's attendance policy.

Duchene filed a claim for unemployment benefits and was denied. She appealed the denial of her request.

A June 11, 2011 hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Duchene was unrepresented at the hearing. She stated that although her Hepatitis C was not caused by Wells Fargo, her work was exacerbating her symptoms, which led to her absences. Duchene claimed she was looking for work but was unable to find part-time work. She stated, "I resign[ed] not only because of my failing health but also due to the constant fear of being terminated by my employer." Duchene admitted that her physician had not advised her to resign her position with Wells Fargo. The Wells Fargo representative agreed that if Duchene had not resigned and was not approved for FMLA leave, she would have been terminated.

The ALJ issued a decision denying Duchene unemployment benefits. The ALJ found Duchene failed to prove she is able and available for work based on the following:

Claimant has Hepatitis C and has been restricted to working 20-24 hours per week by her physician, Bret McFarlin, D.O. She was able to work within these restrictions for Wells Fargo until April 7, 2011. Since that time the claimant has filed a claim for benefits effective April 24, 2011. She has been seeking work but is only able to work at home. She has been advised by a private employment agency that had placed her with Wells Fargo that there is no work available in her area of residence with her restriction to work at home part time.

The ALJ concluded, "This record does not establish that she is able and available for work. Her self-imposed limitation to work at home only does not on this record reflect that she is able and available for work."

The ALJ also found the denial of benefits was correct because she voluntarily left her employment and was not advised by a physician to resign:

Claimant was employed with the employer from November 2009 through April 7, 2011. She voluntarily quit her employment because she was experiencing stress waiting for a response on her FMLA request. If her request was not granted she was going to be terminated but the employer was allowing the claimant to continue to work while the request was pending. Claimant saw a physician ...


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