Proceeding in this Court
W. Jensen, Attorney for Petitioner
B. McPeck, Attorney for Respondent
Diana Hagen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K.
Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.
Utah Paiute Tribal Housing Authority Inc. (the Housing
Authority) seeks judicial review of a Workforce Appeals Board
(the Board) decision that a former employee (the Employee)
was terminated without just cause and is thus entitled to
unemployment benefits. Because the Board's findings and
conclusions are supported by substantial evidence, we decline
to disturb the Board's decision.
This case concerns the dismissal of the Employee from her
employment with the Housing Authority, a Utah corporation
that assists members of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah in
obtaining affordable housing. During the course of her
employment, the Employee reported to the Housing
Authority's executive director. The executive director,
in turn, reported to the Board of Commissioners (the
Commissioners), an organization comprised of representatives
from the different bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe. Although
the Paiute Indian Tribe has its own tribal council (the
Tribal Council) that authorizes the Housing Authority's
funding, the Tribal Council does not fall directly within the
Housing Authority's chain of command.
About one year into her employment with the Housing
Authority, the Employee began to suspect that the executive
director was misusing Housing Authority funds. She believed
that the Commissioners were reflexively supportive of the
executive director and would not take complaints about him
seriously. The Employee also testified that other individuals
had previously complained to the Tribal Council about the
executive director's spending, but the Tribal Council had
indicated that "it was powerless to do anything without
proof of wrongdoing."
The Employee began collecting documents that she believed
supported her suspicions that the executive director was
misusing funds. She obtained a copy of a per diem check from
the Housing Authority made out to the executive director. She
also acquired a copy of the executive director's travel
arrangements and corporate credit card statement, intending
to use the documents to show that the executive director had
inflated the amount of his per diem check and misused Housing
Authority funds on hotels and rental cars.
The Employee reported her suspicions to the Tribal Council
and provided the supporting documents. As a result, the
Tribal Council cancelled a scheduled meeting with the
Commissioners and provided the Commissioners with copies of
the documents. The Commissioners responded by alerting the
executive director of the allegations made by the Employee.
The executive director then terminated the Employee for
violating the Housing Authority's non-disclosure policy,
which the Employee had previously agreed to, by revealing
Following her termination, the Employee made a claim for
unemployment benefits. The Utah Department of Workforce
Services denied her claim, finding that the Employee was
discharged for "just cause." The Employee appealed
to an administrative law judge (the ALJ), and the ALJ upheld
the original decision. The Employee appealed the ALJ's
decision to the Board, which found that the Employee was
terminated without just cause. The Board accordingly reversed
the determination of the ALJ and held that the Employee was
entitled to unemployment benefits. The Housing Authority now
seeks judicial review of the Board's decision.
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Housing Authority challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence to support the Board's determination that the
Employee was terminated without just cause. This court
"will uphold the Board's decision if its factual
findings and determinations are supported by substantial
evidence when viewed in light of the whole record."
Needle Inc. v. Department of Workforce Services,
2016 UT App 85, ¶ 6, 372 P.3d 696 (cleaned up).
"Substantial evidence is that quantum and quality of
relevant evidence that is adequate to convince a reasonable
mind to support a conclusion and is more than a mere
scintilla but something less than the weight of the
evidence." I ...