After being fired from a doctor’s office last year, Jolene O’Donnell has suffered another legal setback in her effort to get unemployment benefits. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that O’Donnell was ineligible for benefits because her phone call to state insurance regulators amounted to employee misconduct.
I told the story last September of how O’Donnell lost her medical billing job at Hennepin Faculty Associates because she had called the Department of Commerce to try to resolve a dispute with an insurance company. Her supervisors worried that the call might damage the office’s relationship with the insurer, Medica. But O’Donnell said her firing violated the state’s whistleblower law.
The law as written when O'Donnell was fired says that a single violation that doesn't have a "significant adverse impact" on the employer isn't employee misconduct. There's no evidence that O'Donnell's phone call to commerce ever damaged Hennepin Faculty Associates' relationship with Medica. But the appeals court ruled that O'Donnell's action made her supervisors believe she would do it again, and that's a significant adverse impact.
The court also notes that lawmakers have since rewritten that part of the law to remove the "adverse impact" language. Now it has much more employer-friendly language: "If the conduct for which the applicant was discharged involved only a single incident, that is an important fact that must be considered in deciding whether the conduct rises to the level of employment misconduct..."
O’Donnell said she’s “devastated” by the ruling.