Savakis v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act
A hospital worker who is discharged for allegedly taking a decedent's picture without permission from next of kin may not be entitled to unemployment benefits. In June 2011, the plaintiff, Cheryl Savakis, was working as a nurse in the emergency room at the Hospital of St. Raphael and allegedly used her cell to take a picture of a deceased patient's chest, which had been opened in an attempt to remove a bullet. Savakis obtained the permission of her co-workers to take the picture and did not request permission from the next of kin. Allegedly, she sent the picture to a nurse technician. The Department of Public Health conducted an investigation. Media contacted the hospital, which requires that employees receive permission from patients or their next of kin, prior to taking any pictures of patients. The Hospital of St. Raphael discharged the plaintiff and co-workers, alleging that they violated the employee code. Savakis applied for unemployment compensation benefits and the hospital argued she engaged in "willful misconduct" and should not receive unemployment benefits. Savakis argued that because she did not take a picture of the decedent's face, she did not violate the employer's policy. Savakis also claimed that other hospital workers who had engaged in similar conduct had not been disciplined. A director of patient care submitted evidence that hospital workers were warned against taking pictures without permission from a patient or next of kin. The administrator of the Unemployment Compensation Act denied the plaintiff's request for benefits. The appeals referee and the Employment Security Board of Review affirmed. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court. "Willful misconduct" is defined as "deliberate misconduct in wilful disregard of the employer's interest, or a single knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule or policy of the employer, when reasonably applied." The board of review's decision was not arbitrary, illegal or an abuse of discretion, and the Superior Court dismissed the appeal.