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Metro Government of Nashville & Davidson County v. Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 13, 2014


Session Date: July 29, 2014

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 12338I Claudia Bonnyman, Chancellor.

Saul Solomon, Director of Law; and J. Brooks Fox and Christopher M. Lackey, Assistant Metropolitan Attorneys, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee on behalf of The Metropolitan Board of Public Education.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and Kathryn A. Baker, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Rutherford County Board of Education, and Cortnei S. Lewis.

Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P. J., M. S., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.



Cortnei S. Lewis ("Ms. Lewis") was employed as a substitute teacher by the Rutherford County Board of Education ("RCBE") for the 2010-2011 school year; her contract was not renewed for the 2011-2012 school year. On August 22, 2011, she filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development ("the Department") against RCBE; the Department approved her claim and awarded her benefits.

On August 25, 2011, Ms. Lewis applied to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools ("Metro") for a substitute teaching position; she was hired and worked from August 31 through October 13, 2011. During part of this employment, Ms. Lewis received unemployment benefits from the claim filed on August 22; she stopped receiving benefits on September 30. On that day, she contacted the Department and was led to file a new claim for unemployment benefits; the new claim listed Metro as her employer.[1] In response to a question which asked the reason for her separation, she responded "I was laid off due to lack of work when my substitution assignment ended on Friday." She was also asked whether she expected to return to work for the school system in a similar capacity the next term, to which she responded "I expect to substitute for . . . this school district sometime this semester as well as next school term." The Department sent a request to Metro's case manager, Thomas & Thorngren, for Ms. Lewis's employment history on October 3; Thomas & Thorngren responded by letter dated October 10 stating:

Separation Reason
[Ms. Lewis] is still employed same basis and same extent.
The claimant is a substitute teacher who is not accepting all available shifts. Since 8/11, the employer has called her 53 times for assignments. She has accepted 6 assignments then canceled 3, hung up on the employer 17 times, did not answer the phone 30 times, as well as 5 additional web assignments were accepted and then 4 were rearranged.

On October 21, 2011 the agency representative approved Ms. Lewis's claim.[2] On November 4 Thomas & Thorngren, on behalf of Metro, appealed to the Appeals Tribunal by letter reiterating the statements in the October 10 letter and requesting a telephone hearing "to provide [Metro] with an opportunity to present additional testimony and evidence in support of [its] appeal."

On December 6, 2011 the Appeals Tribunal mailed pre-hearing instructions and information regarding the upcoming hearing. On December 13, the Metropolitan Department of Law entered an appearance on behalf of Metro and filed the following documents which were to be offered as exhibits at the hearing: (1) a report detailing the substitute teaching assignments that Metro offered Ms. Lewis and whether she accepted or declined the assignments; (2) a fax confirmation that Metro's appeal had been filed; (3) excerpts from Metro's Handbook for Substitute Employees; (4) Ms. Lewis's substitute teacher profile; (5) Ms. Lewis's verification data form stating that she had received certain employee materials from Metro; and (6) the Memorandum and Order from the Chancery Court proceeding in Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson County v. James Neely, Comm'r of the Tenn. Dep't of Labor & Workforce Dev. et al., No. 10-1458-III. Following a hearing on December 16, the unemployment hearing officer affirmed the decision of the agency representative.

Metro appealed by letter to the Board of Review, [3] disagreeing with the unemployment hearing officer's decision, and requesting a reconsideration of the merits. Metro's letter stated "[t]he employer believes that Ms. Lewis did not have good reasons for refusing available work, and feels that the Board should reverse this decision and disqualify [Ms. Lewis] upon review of the record." On February 9, 2012 the ...

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