Trooper Who Quits During Harassment Investigation Loses Unemployment Benefits

Tatiana Loughman began working as a police officer for the Ohio Highway Patrol on August 7, 2013. Upon commencement of her employment, she was subjected to sexual harassment by co-workers and her supervisor, Sergeant Sheldon Robinson. In November 2013, she filed a complaint with the Patrol’s human resources department regarding the harassment. The first complaint was found to be justified, and Sergeant Robinson was disciplined.

Loughman returned to the same position and continued to work under Sergeant Robinson. Loughman claimed that the sexual harassment and hostile work environment continued. Loughman requested, and was granted, sick leave from May 20 through May 26, 2014. On May 21, 2014, Loughman complained again to the EEO manager that Sergeant Robinson continued to harass her, prompting the commencement of a second investigation. On May 27, 2014, Loughman returned to work and was transferred to the Office of Personnel pending the investigation.

On May 29, 2014, the human resources department offered Loughman four positions within ODPS but outside the section in which she had been working. However, Loughman resigned on June 4, 2014. Loughman later alleged that she resigned due to a medical condition.

Loughman filed an application for unemployment benefits. When the State denied the application, she challenged the denial in the Ohio Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld the decision to deny Loughman’s application for benefits. The Court started with a discussion of how Ohio law treated unemployment requests from employees who had resigned their jobs: “The unemployment statute provides that an applicant is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits if the individual quit work without just cause or has been discharged for just cause in connection with the individual’s work. The term ‘just cause,’ in this context, is defined as ‘that which, to an ordinarily intelligent person, is a justifiable reason for doing or not doing a particular act.’

“A significant factor in assessing whether an employee resigned with just cause is the employee’s fault in creating the situation that led to the resignation. In cases in which an employee encounters circumstances that might force resignation, the employee must first notify the employer of problems prior to resigning or risk a finding of resignation without just cause. The purpose of such notice is to provide the employer an opportunity to resolve the conflict before the employee is forced to resign.

“Here, the Patrol investigated Loughman’s initial claim for harassment and then disciplined Sergeant Robinson. Loughman fails to explain how the Highway Patrol’s handling of her first harassment complaint was insufficient. Although she alleged in a second harassment complaint that Sergeant Robinson’s harassment continued, that case was not yet substantiated and her employer was investigating it. After Loughman lodged her second complaint and returned to work following her medical leave, the highway patrol transferred her to a different office.

“After she returned to work, the Highway Patrol offered her four separate positions in different areas than she had previously worked. Although Loughman contends that the Highway Patrol should have taken immediate and effective steps to ensure that she did not suffer from continued harassment, the Highway Patrol did take immediate steps. Whether they were effective or not is still unknown, as Loughman’s allegations were unconfirmed and she quit before they could be substantiated. When she did initiate her second complaint, the Highway Patrol took immediate action to remove her from the allegedly harassing environment pending its investigation and offered her other permanent positions thereafter. Loughman fails to convince us that the Highway Patrol’s actions were not appropriate under the circumstances.”

Loughman v. Ohio Department of Public Safety, 2016 WL 1382146 (Ohio App. 2016).