Construction Zone Worker Unjustly Fired, Wins Compensation in Unemployment Hearing

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Celestine Gaters gives a talk on how Legal Aid helped her gain financial security after losing her job.

Between speeding traffic and the crunch and rumble of machinery, Celestine Gaters braved her job as a construction zone traffic flagger with grace. It could be harsh physical work for the nearly 60-year-old widow, but the pay was good and she’d already hung on three years.

One blustery February day, Ms. Gaters saw a gust of wind topple a traffic sign. When she bent down to retrieve it, her safety glasses slid off her face and she shoved them in her pocket. When she was done grappling with the cumbersome sign, she put the glasses back on.

But four days later, her supervisor called to fire her for safety violations.

“I thought, this is wrong!” Ms. Gaters said. “And I thought, I got a house and a car; I got bills. I was really scared to not have a job or the finances to pay my bills while looking for a new one.”

Legal Aid staff attorney Arcola Whatley took her case, gathering details just days before the hearing before the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission. She presented evidence to the commission that showed her client was terminated without just cause and was owed unemployment compensation. After listening to Ms. Whatley’s clear articulation of Ms. Gaters’ actions and the employer’s conduct, the hearing officer ruled in Ms. Gaters’ favor.

She received enough unemployment compensation benefits to tide her over while she was applying for other positions.

Now Ms. Gaters has a new job with fewer physical demands and straightforward rules.  She says she’s eager to pay forward the kindness she received by telling everyone about the help she received from Legal Aid and Ms. Whatley: “I’m so thankful for Legal Aid. It’s just nice to know that someone cares; they took a lot of worry off me!”

This and other success stories from Legal Aid’s employment law practice are generously underwritten by The Deaconess Foundation.

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