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Ridley v. Director, Department of Workforce Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 5, 2016

BRENDA RIDLEY APPELLANT
v.
DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, AND DAVID PEPPERS DDS PLLC APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS BOARD OF REVIEW [NO. 2015-BR-02273]

          Michael Hamby, for appellant.

          Phyllis A. Edwards, for appellee.

          LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge

         Brenda Ridley was disqualified by the Employment Security Department for unemployment benefits on the grounds that she left her last employment voluntarily and without good cause connected to the work. This decision was affirmed by both the Appeals Tribunal (Tribunal) and the Board of Review (Board). On appeal, Ridley argues that the findings of the Board are not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm.

         Pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-10-513(a) (Repl. 2012), an individual shall be disqualified for unemployment benefits if she voluntarily and without good cause connected with the work left her last work. Whether there is good cause for an employee to quit her job is a question of fact. Claflin v. Dir., 53 Ark.App. 126, 127, 920 S.W.2d 20, 21 (1996). "Good cause has been defined as a cause that would reasonably impel the average able-bodied, qualified worker to give up his or her employment." Carpenter v. Dir., 55 Ark.App. 39, 41, 929 S.W.2d 177, 178 (1996) (citing Perdrix-Wang v. Dir., 42 Ark.App. 218, 856 S.W.2d 636 (1993)). Other elements in determining good cause are "whether the employee took appropriate steps to prevent the mistreatment from continuing, " Teel v. Dir., 270 Ark. 766, 606 S.W.2d 151 (Ark. Ct. App. 1980), and "whether the employee took appropriate steps to rectify the problem." Claflin, 53 Ark.App. at 128, 920 S.W.2d at 22.

         We review the Board's findings in the light most favorable to the prevailing party and affirm the Board's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Voss v. Dir., 2015 Ark.App. 521, at 3, 471 S.W.3d 661, 664. Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id., 471 S.W.3d at 664. Even when there is evidence on which the Board might have reached a different decision, the scope of our review is limited to a determination of whether the Board reasonably could have reached the decision that it did based upon the evidence before it. Id. at 3-4, 471 S.W.3d at 664. Issues of credibility of witnesses and weight to be afforded their testimony are matters for the Board to determine. Id. at 4, 471 S.W.3d at 664.

         Ridley, a dental assistant, began working for Dr. David Peppers[1] in January 2014. On the morning of August 24, 2015, Ridley learned that a coworker, Amanda Sponsel, was planning to tell Dr. Peppers's wife that Ridley and Dr. Peppers had exchanged text messages of nude pictures of each other. Later that morning, Ridley left the office and never returned. In September 2015, Ridley filed a claim for unemployment benefits. She received a notice of agency determination denying her claim, stating that she left her work voluntarily and without good cause connected with the work.

         Ridley appealed the agency determination to the Appeals Tribunal, and a hearing was held on October 22, 2015. Ridley testified that from October to December 2014, Dr. Peppers flirted with her, asked her for naked pictures, touched her breasts and butt and, on one occasion, asked her to have sexual intercourse. She admitted that she sent him nude pictures of herself on more than five occasions thinking that he would treat her better. She said he sent her pictures of his penis. Ridley also testified that Dr. Peppers was verbally and mentally abusive to her at work. She said that he was violent in the office, throwing things and knocking pictures off the wall. She said that he once threw a "curing light" at her because he was upset about a procedure.

         According to Ridley, on August 24, 2015, Sponsel said she planned to leave the office to tell Mrs. Peppers about the nude pictures that Ridley and Dr. Peppers had exchanged. Ridley said she thereafter received a text message from Sponsel advising that Mrs. Peppers recommended that she (Ridley) leave the office immediately because "[Mrs. Peppers] had no idea what [Dr. Peppers] would do" when he learned that his wife knew about the pictures. Ridley testified that she left the office immediately and went to Mrs. Peppers's office.

         Once she left, Ridley testified that she believed she no longer had a job at the dental practice, although she conceded she was never told by Dr. Peppers that she was fired. She admitted that she left the office because Mrs. Peppers suggested she should. Ridley said that she exchanged emails with Dr. Peppers on August 26. She said that he did not ask her to return to work and that she did not ask him at that time if she could return to work. She said that she loved her job but did not ask him about it because she was afraid of him.

         Sponsel testified that she worked as a dental assistant for Dr. Peppers for eight-and-one-half years and that she carried on a sexual relationship with him for eight years. She stated that Dr. Peppers confided in her that he abused pharmaceutical drugs. Sponsel further stated that while Dr. Peppers "picked on" Ridley about her work, she (Sponsel) was unaware of the nude pictures or any sexual contact between Ridley and Dr. Peppers. Sponsel learned of the pictures on August 24 and advised Ridley that she planned to tell Mrs. Peppers about them. Sponsel also said that she and Mrs. Peppers told Ridley to leave the office because they were afraid of what Dr. Peppers might do.

         Dr. Peppers admitted that he had a problem with prescription medication following failed surgeries. However, he denied engaging in violent behavior in the office, requesting nude pictures from Ridley, and touching her. He stated that she sent him the first nude picture and that he asked for more, which she sent.

         Dr. Peppers also stated that he did not fire Ridley and that she could have had her job back if she would have returned to work. He stated that he was expecting her to return to work the following day. He testified that he sent her a text message asking if she was okay, but she did not respond. Dr. Peppers also testified that Ridley did not fear ...


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