Health Clerk Loses Jobless Benefit Appeal

March 27, 2009 ( - A New York state appellate court has upheld an administrative law judge's ruling disqualifying a woman for unemployment insurance because she did not tell her former employer about a problem with depression before being fired for being late or absent from work too often.

The ruling by   Justice Anthony T. Kane, written for the Appellate Division, 3 rd Department, rebuffed arguments by Mawuli Anumah that the administrative law judge and the state Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board were wrong in turning down her benefits claim. The appellate judges rejected claims her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been violated.

The administrative and court rulings found that her conduct before being fired as a senior medical clerk at the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York in April 2006 constituted sufficient misconduct that would make her ineligible for benefits. In his ruling, Kane noted Anumah was suspended in December 2005 and that from then until her dismissal, she was late or absent 38 times. Kane also pointed out that she had been on notice for more than a year before being fired about her lateness/absence problem.

Kane noted in his decision that Anumah’s supervisors had tried repeatedly to see if they could help her deal with whatever was making her excessively late or absent.

“The employer did not require claimant to explain her absences and, even when warnings were given, only a general inquiry was made to see if the employer could do anything to assist claimant in remedying her attendance problems,” Kane wrote. “Nevertheless, the ADA permits inquiries related to business necessity and regular attendance usually is, although it is not always, an essential function of a position.”

Anumah later acknowledged that at the time she had been diagnosed with a severe depressive disorder, was seeing a psychiatrist, taking medication and attending weekly therapy sessions, Kane noted. During her hearing before the Department of Labor administrative law judge, Anumah said she did not share the truth about her mental condition because she was “spiraling, spiraling down.”

“My mental health was not doing well at this time,” she told the hearing officer. “So, I found it difficult to do a lot of things.”