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National Park Community College v. Castaneda

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

October 3, 2018

NATIONAL PARK COMMUNITY COLLEGE AND PUBLIC EMPLOYEE CLAIMS DIVISION APPELLANTS
v.
MELINDA CASTANEDA APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. G505784]

          Robert H. Montgomery, Public Employee Claims Division, for appellants.

          Goldberg & Dohan, by: Andy L. Caldwell, for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Appellants National Park Community College (NPCC) and the Public Employee Claims Division appeal the decision of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (the Commission) affirming and adopting the decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ) awarding appellee Melinda Castaneda benefits under Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-505(a) (Repl. 2012). We affirm.

         Castaneda, an employee of NPCC, sustained a compensable right-shoulder injury on June 5, 2015, during a team-building exercise. In March 2017, the ALJ held a hearing to determine (1) additional temporary total-disability benefits or, in the alternative, permanent partial-disability benefits for her shoulder injury; (2) wage loss and benefits under Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-505(a); (3) vocational rehabilitation; and (4) attorney's fees.

         At the hearing before the ALJ, Castaneda testified that she began working full time at NPCC in 2009 or 2010. Her employment was pursuant to a yearly contract, which she signed in April or May for the following school year. She was paid throughout the entire year but worked only during the school year. Castaneda explained that she was an assistant to three instructors. Her job duties included taking attendance, grading papers, and substitute teaching. Castaneda explained that when she met with her supervisor, Jason Hudnell, in April or May 2015 to renew her contract for the 2015-2016 school year, he informed her that her job would be discontinued after the 2015-2016 school year due to finances.

         Castaneda injured her shoulder on June 5, 2015, and was off the following two months for the summer break. She started back to work in August or September 2015 and worked until September 28, 2015, when Dr. Rudder performed surgery to repair her torn rotator cuff. Castaneda continued to see Dr. Rudder and had physical therapy for eight months until he released her in May 2016; she contacted Wanda Holden in human resources after each visit to Dr. Rudder to apprise NPCC of her situation. Castaneda testified that she was no longer employed by NPCC by the time she was released to work. She explained that she received an email on a Thursday stating that if she did not return to work by 8:00 a.m. the next morning, she would not have a job. Castaneda called Holden on Monday morning to inform Holden that Dr. Rudder had not released her to work. Castaneda testified that when she called Holden, Holden told her that her FMLA leave had run out and that she should have reported to her job in a timely manner. Castaneda also received a termination letter in the mail dated March 29, 2016, stating she would be terminated as of April 1, 2016. The termination letter also requested her to repay insurance premiums paid on her behalf while she was on leave.

         Two emails sent to Castaneda by Janet Brewer, associate vice-president of human resources for NPCC, were introduced into evidence. The first, sent March 17, 2016, provided in part:

Your doctor released you to come back to work on March 15 as stated below. You have been under the Family Medical Leave during this time. You are entitled to 12 weeks in a calendar year. You have used approximately 10 weeks of that time. If you wish to remain under FMLA for the remaining two weeks, then you must provide an updated certificate.

         The second email, sent March 29, 2016, provided in part:

You have used your 12 weeks of FMLA for the calendar year 2016. After visiting with Jason [Hudnell], it is necessary that this position be covered for the remainder of the year and the need has become critical. Since you are unable to return to work, we will need to replace your position. Your employment will be terminated effective Friday, April 1, 2016.

         Castaneda received workers'-compensation benefits after she was terminated until she was released by Dr. Rudder on May 18, 2016. Castaneda testified that when she was released to work, NPCC had employment available within her restrictions but she was not offered employment. She testified that she did not contact NPCC about returning to work when she was released or apply for other jobs at NPCC. She stated that her job was not phased out and that someone was still doing the job that she had performed. Castaneda testified that she wanted to return to work.

         Janet Brewer testified about the two emails she sent Castaneda. Brewer acknowledged that they did not offer Castaneda any work following her release in May 2016, explaining that she was no longer employed with NPCC and that they do not typically call people to return to work who have already been terminated. Brewer indicated that Castaneda was aware when she signed her contract in April or May 2015 that it would be her last year of employment in that position. She stated that positions occasionally come open during the ...


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