day-and-a-half long appeal hearing to settle her unemployment claim ended positively for a fired Platte County human resources worker.
In addition to the positive news for the fired worker, details contained in the Missouri Division of Employment Security’s decision could signal another obstacle to the county in its civil lawsuit against the former worker. The verdict also further cut the credibility of a payroll specialist still employed in the county’s HR department.
Kendra Montgomery was fired by the county last fall after being accused of falsifying time sheets. The county claims this alleged falsification resulted in Montgomery receiving more than $2,200 in unwarranted vacation time, medical leave and comp time between Jan. 16, 2008 until her dismissal in November 2009.
The county commission then filed a civil suit against Montgomery, which is still pending. Also, a criminal investigation was opened by law enforcement authorities after they read in The Landmark about the civil suit being filed.
An investigation by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department cleared Montgomery of any criminal wrongdoing. Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd declined to press charges, saying “there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she had any criminal intent.”
Montgomery initially was denied unemployment on Dec. 24 after the state looked at the record and summarily made a ruling. Montgomery appealed that ruling with a filing on Jan. 21.
A telephone conference appeal hearing began on March 12. Montgomery participated and was also represented by her attorney, Mark Jess. Testifying for the county on that day was Bob Shaw, county counselor. After a half day, the matter was continued until April 5.
On April 5, the Missouri Division of Employment Security appeals tribunal heard the remainder of the appeal by telephone conference. The hearing continued through the entire day.
“It was probably the longest unemployment hearing in the history of the state of Missouri,” said Jim Plunkett, county commissioner.
Plunkett testified for the county, as did Matthew Gist, an attorney for the county’s insurance firm; Mary Robinson, county human resources director; and LeAnna Fannon, highly publicized payroll specialist for the county.
It was Fannon’s responses to a detective’s questioning that contributed heavily to authorities’ decision not to file charges against Montgomery.
Fannon admitted to detectives that she at one point had told Montgomery and other employees under her at the time that she was going to give them–and herself–an extra two weeks of paid vacation because the county commission had not awarded pay increases. Fannon’s testimony in the Montgomery unemployment hearing also worked against the county. The appeals tribunal in its ruling called Fannon’s testimony “not credible.” In its verdict, the appeals tribunal states: “The evidence presented by the employer is insufficient to show that the claimant (Montgomery) was responsible for any falsified time records or altered time records. It is further found that the testimony of one of the employer’s witnesses, the payroll specialist (Fannon), was not credible.”
Fannon has been in the news since last fall when the county auditor announced she was conducting an audit of the HR department due to what she said were problems with payroll and benefits. Siobhann Wiliams, county auditor, at the time alleged the county commission and others were not being cooperative in her attempt to audit the department. Commissioners disputed her claim, and during that time period announced that as part of their reaction to problems, Fannon had been demoted from a previous role as department head.
Fannon later filed a discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claim against Williams, alleging that Williams started the audit after Fannon had resisted alleged sexual advances from her. Williams vehemently denies the claim made by Fannon. Fannon’s claim is still pending at the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
In her harassment claim, Fannon lists Montgomery as a witness. Fannon says Montgomery witnessed Williams peering at her through a window. Montgomery, however, in an interview with The Landmark last fall, said she believes the accusations Fannon is making against Williams “are false.”
In her counterclaim filed against the county, Montgomery says the county’s suit against her is “retaliation for her assertion of rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act and/or because she was named as a witness and was interviewed in LeAnna Fannon’s charge of discrimination against the county.”
Fannon did not return a Landmark phone call seeking comment on the verdict issued by the appeals tribunal. Robinson’s office said she is out of the office until Monday.
Montgomery’s attorneys declined to comment on the outcome of her unemployment appeal, citing the still-pending civil case.
Montgomery worked for the county for two and a half years as a payroll specialist at a final rate of pay of $13.84. She was dismissed on Nov. 12 of last year.
The appeals tribunal wrote: “The employer’s director of human resources (Robinson) alleged that the claimant selected numerous time sheets for the period from May of 2009 through Nov. 12, 2009, which were not signed by her supervisor or were altered. She maintained that she had accumulated 90 hours of ‘comp time’ during that period and that on occasion she took time off in order to attend to foster care duties or court appearances.
“The claimant denied knowingly falsifying any time sheets. She maintained that other employees had access to her computer and that she believed that other employees had accessed her computer and had altered time records of the claimant and other employees.”
In siding with Montgomery and against the county, the appeals tribunal wrote: “The appeals tribunal notes that the evidence presented by the employer is insufficient to show that the claimant was responsible for any falsified time records or altered time records.”
The ruling continued: “It is further found that the testimony of one of the employers witnesses, the payroll specialist (Fannon), was not credible. The appeals tribunal further concludes that the other employees did have access to the claimant’s computer and therefore the time records of the employer.
“The appeals tribunal further concludes that the evidence presented by the employer is insufficient to show that the claimant was guilty of misconduct connected with her work.”
In reversing the determination of its deputy, the appeals tribunal writes: “It is concluded that the claimant was discharged from her employment on Nov. 13, 2009 but not for misconduct connected with her work.
“The deputy’s determination is reversed. The claimant is not disqualified for benefits.”
If the county chooses to appeal the ruling handed down by the tribunal, it has 30 days in which to file “an application for review.”