A woman who claimed on Facebook that she would have slit a co-worker’s throat during an alleged altercation had they not been on the job is ineligible for unemployment benefits, the Commonwealth Court has ruled.
A three-judge panel consisting of President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt and Judges Anne Covey and Michael Wojcik denied Shannon Cummins’ appeal of an Unemployment Compensation Board of Review’s determination that she committed misconduct disqualifying her from receiving benefits.
According to Leavitt’s opinion, Cummins claimed a supervisor at Force Industries Inc. placed his hands on her during a discussion about her not wearing safety goggles. The supervisor, Kenny McBrearty, testified that he did touch her arm to move her into his office to talk about her refusal to wear safety goggles.
Afterward, according to the opinion, Cummins took to Facebook, writing: “‘Today, a man put his hands on me. It’s then when [you] realize how weak they are that they can’t pick on someone of their own kind. I learned willpower, self[-]restraint and gained dignity. I wonder how he feels now.’”
In the comment section of the post, according to the opinion, she then wrote, “‘I would [have] sliced his throat open if it didn’t happen at work. And had no remorse.’”
According to Leavitt, three witnesses told police who were called in response to the threat that McBrearty did not shove Cummins, as she had claimed, but escorted her from the shop floor.
After seeing the post, the company president fired Cummins. The plaintiff then sought unemployment benefits, but was denied by an unemployment board referee, who found the Facebook post constituted “willful misconduct.”
“The referee rejected claimant’s argument that her statement was not a threat, finding that it was ‘specific and overtly menacing,’” Leavitt said. “He concluded that because claimant’s statement ‘would be disruptive and cause discord amongst knowing individuals at the workplace,’ it constituted willful misconduct.”
Cummins argued on appeal that the board erred in finding her Facebook post was a direct threat. She further maintained that the board erred in holding that she committed willful misconduct because she did not post the comment while at work.
However, Cummins failed to convince the court.
“We reject claimant’s argument that she did not make a threat because her statement was conditioned on the incident hypothetically happening outside of work and outside the presence of coworkers,” Leavitt said. “Likewise, claimant’s use of the subjunctive ‘would have’ does not reduce the severity of her words. Further, although claimant was expressing her present feelings about a past incident, her words expressed an intent to cause physical harm.”
Leavitt also said the fact that the threat was not made at work makes no difference.
“Cummins,” Leavitt said, “made her threatening statement on Facebook as a result of her confrontation with McBrearty at work. At the hearing, claimant testified that she wrote the post later that evening because ‘[she] was mad that [McBrearty] still had a job and [she’s] sitting at home and nothing was being done.’ Claimant’s conduct was sufficiently connected to her work to constitute willful misconduct.”
Cummins represented herself in the case. The board was represented by Janet Tarczy. Cummins did not return a call seeking comment. The unemployment board spokesperson declined to comment.