1Ls Gutierrez, Hastings Win Unemployment Appeal With Help from Supervising Attorneys

With guidance provided by supervising attorneys from the law firm of Strindberg  & Scholnick, David Gutierrez and Brett Hastings, both 1Ls at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law who volunteer at the Street Law Clinic, recently helped a Salt Lake City resident win an appeal after he was initially denied unemployment benefits. In the interview below, the two relate how they got involved with the Pro Bono Initiative, describe the help they received from attorneys Lauren Scholnick and Kass Harstad, and recount how their coursework at the College of Law helped prepare them for this experience.

Let’s start by describing the facts.

DG: The client was fired from his job for unclear (or at least poorly articulated) reasons. If that was not bad enough, his former employer then denied his unemployment, stating that he had been fired for “good cause” and was ineligible according to state statute. This was the basis of our appeal.

What kinds of services/counseling did you provide?

BH:  After interviewing the client and discussing the case with Lauren Scholnick (the supervising attorney), she asked us if we were ready to do an unemployment appeal. We said yes!


David Gutierrez

DG: Brett and I spent a week or so putting together a hearing plan (essentially a trial). The hearing was with the [Administrative Law] Judge and the opposing party over the phone. The two of us represented the client, under the supervision of Kass Harstad, at the hearing, which included direct and cross examination of witnesses. The judge sent his opinion after a few days finding good cause to deny the client benefits. We then had to prepare an appeal of that decision to an appeals board.

BH: We lost the ALJ hearing, which, of course, was very disappointing.  We elected to move forward with a second appeal with the Workforce Appeals Board. Kass Harstad asked us to research the appeals process, including the timing and form of the appeal, standard of review, and applicable case law. We then prepared the Request for Appeal, along with a Brief of our arguments. The Workforce Appeals Board issued its decision, in our favor, on Friday, March 29.

How did your education at the College of Law prepare you for this experience?

BH: the unemployment appeal included elements of many concepts we learned during the first semester.  First, it required research to determine what case law existed and what Utah law recognized as termination for cause (Legal Research). Second, there were elements of contract law since the client had signed an employment agreement and was subject to the regulations of an Employee Policy Manual (Contracts). Third, there were procedure questions relating to the appeal rights, admissibility of evidence, treatment of hearsay, timing of additional appeals, etc. (Civil Procedure). Finally, we engaged in legal writing by preparing interoffice research memos and a persuasive brief to the Workforce Appeals Board (Legal Methods). Participating in the appeal was a great experience, and it provided me with valuable experience that could have been gained in no other way.


Brett Hastings

DG: Part of my attraction to the S.J. Quinney College of Law was the school’s dedication to pro bono work.  I was eager to be able to work with PBI after my first semester. I like Street Law in particular for its frequency and wide variety of client needs. Many hours were spent at Strindberg & Scholnick’s office discussing our legal theory and planning for the hearing. Kass and Lauren are incredible attorneys with an inspiring passion for helping others.

As impressed as Gutierrez and Hastings were with the supervising attorneys, one of those attorneys, Kass Harstad, appears equally impressed with the students’ dedication and hard work. 

KH: I was initially impressed with their efforts during the unemployment hearing. The hearing was scheduled for early in the week, and I remember talking with the students at around 9 or 10 p.m. on Saturday night as they were preparing for it.

Then I was really impressed with their attitude when we lost the hearing before the ALJ. I told the students that we could appeal the ALJ’s decision, but that the appeals are very hard to win and that they shouldn’t get their hopes up. Regardless, they wanted to do it because they felt the ALJ’s decision was legally incorrect and because they felt like it was unjust for the client. So I was most impressed by their drive to do the right thing, notwithstanding that it would be an uphill battle.