from Houston Circuit Court (CV-18-134).
S. Ammons, gen. counsel, and Holly T. Sharp, asst. gen.
counsel, Department of Labor, Legal Division, for appellant.
on appellant's brief only.
Alabama Department of Labor ("the DOL") appeals
from a judgment of the Houston Circuit Court ("the trial
court") in this unemployment-compensation case. The
judgment permitted Eddie L. Griggs to receive the maximum
amount of unemployment-compensation benefits
allowed, with no disqualifications. Initially, the DOL
decided that Griggs was disqualified from receiving any
unemployment-compensation benefits. Griggs appealed that
decision to a DOL hearing officer. After conducting a hearing
by telephone with Griggs and other witnesses, the hearing
officer entered a decision disqualifying Griggs from
receiving unemployment-compensation benefits for eight weeks
and declaring that the maximum amount to which he could
"become entitled after that period of disqualification
was reduced by eight times the weekly benefit amount."
The DOL then appealed the hearing officer's decision to
the trial court for a trial de novo. See § 25-4-95, Ala.
Code 1975 (providing for appeal to the circuit court in
unemployment-compensation cases and stating that
"[t]rial in the circuit court shall be de novo").
evidence presented to the trial court indicated the
following. For 15 months, Griggs, who is not disabled, worked
for Dothan Ambulance Service, Inc., also known as
Pilcher's Ambulance Service ("Pilcher's"),
driving a wheelchair van. His job was to transport patients
who are confined to wheelchairs to and from various
appointments. The van was equipped with a handicapped-parking
placard. Elaine Hughes Culp, the general manager of
Pilcher's, testified before the trial court that, when
clients were in the wheelchair van, drivers were permitted to
park in spaces designated for handicapped parking. However,
she said, if there were no clients with disabilities on
board, drivers were not permitted to use those spaces. Culp
also said that all of Pilcher's drivers were made aware
that they had to follow all state rules and regulations and
that, under state law, a driver who is not transporting a
disabled person cannot park in a space reserved for people
with disabilities. Section 32-6-233.1, Ala. Code 1975,
provides that it is unlawful for a person who does not have a
disability or who is not transporting a person with a
disability to park in a parking space designated as a
testified that, on August 1, 2018, he was driving the
wheelchair van while on duty but that he was not transporting
anyone at the time. He stated that he pulled into a
convenience-store parking lot and that the only parking space
available was designated for handicapped parking. Griggs said
that it was raining heavily and that two handicapped spaces
were empty, so he parked in one of them and went inside the
convenience store to use the restroom and to buy a soft
drink. Griggs said that he was inside the store for only a
few minutes. He stated that he left the store and that, as he
approached the van, he was approached by an "older
lady." Griggs said that she asked him why he had parked
in the handicapped space, because he was not handicapped.
Griggs testified that he responded, "Ma'am, I
apologize for [the] inconvenience. I just stopped there just
to use the bathroom just for a minute. And I'm very sorry
if I caused you any difficulty." According to Griggs,
the woman told him again that he was not supposed to park in
a handicapped space. He said that he apologized again and
"politely asked" her where she had parked. Griggs
said that the woman, who apparently was disabled, told him
she had parked in the handicapped space next to the van. The
woman also video-recorded Griggs and took his photograph,
Griggs said. He denied that he was rude to the woman.
testified that, the day of Griggs's encounter with the
woman, the woman came to the station from which Pilcher's
operated to make a complaint against him. According to Culp,
the woman said that she had contemplated posting the video to
the Facebook social-media web site, which, Culp said, would
have been "horrible" and
would have put Pilcher's in a bad light with the public.
said that she spoke with the woman and watched the video the
woman had recorded. From watching the video, Culp said, it
was apparent that the woman had difficulty walking. The woman
also had recorded Griggs inside the store "fixing him a
coke." Culp said that the video shows the woman speaking
with Griggs when she followed him out of the store and
approached the van. Culp said: "She is speaking with
him. And he is not responding very well to her." When
the woman asked Griggs his name, Culp said, Griggs did not
tell her. Culp added: "[W]hile she's asking him all
these questions, he has the van in reverse, and the beeping
noise is going on constantly. And he eventually just drives
off, right after she tells him that she has recorded the
whole thing." Culp said that she did not hear Griggs
apologize to the woman on the recording.
the incident at the convenience store, Culp said, a previous
supervisor had reprimanded Griggs after he received a
speeding ticket while driving the van. Culp also said that,
following another incident, she had warned Griggs against
"rude, loud behavior" at the workplace. That
warning was documented in writing. On that occasion, Culp
said, Griggs was on the telephone with another employee in
the office and could be heard yelling at that other employee.
Culp said that she warned Griggs that, if his behavior did
not change, he could lose his job. Griggs acknowledged that,
before the incident at the convenience store, he had received
warnings from his supervisors for misconduct, including being
"smart mouthed and rude and loud." Griggs conceded
that he had been told that if his attitude did not
"straighten up," he would lose his job and that he
was "on thin ice." However, Griggs also ...