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Iorio v. Board of Review

Decided: June 10, 1965.


Gaulkin, Foley and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaulkin, S.j.a.d.


This appeal presents the question whether a woman who quits her employment because of uncomplicated pregnancy is entitled to temporary disability benefits (hereafter T.D.), or to unemployment compensation (hereafter U.C.).

Mrs. Iorio (Iorio) quit her job on April 19, 1963. Her child was born five weeks later, on May 24. She returned to work in July. Her physician testified that although she was uncomfortable, she was not ill or disabled when she left and would have been able to do her work "until the day before delivery."

The employer, New Jersey Bell Telephone Company (Bell), is self-insured, and provides T.D. for its employees under an approved "private plan." N.J.S.A. 43:21-32. Bell refused to pay her T.D. She appealed to the Private Plan Hearing Officer pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-50. He held:

"In view of the testimony of the claimant and that of her treating physician, we are satisfied that the claimant did not become disabled due to complications of her pregnancy within two weeks following the termination of her employment, and she therefore is ineligible for benefits under the provisions of her employer's self-insured Private Plan. However, the claimant did give birth to a child on May 24, 1963, and was released by her physician as able to return to work on July 15, 1963. Any claim that the claimant may have for benefits must be considered under that section of the Unemployment Compensation Law dealing with disability during unemployment. As the Hearing Officer has no jurisdiction over the eligibility or ineligibility of claims for benefits under the Unemployment Compensation Law, he leaves the claimant to take such further action in the matter as she may deem necessary."

Iorio then prosecuted a claim for U.C., under N.J.S.A. 43:21-4. The Board of Review denied her U.C. It held that N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1) "clearly * * * establishes a conclusive presumption of disability beginning with the first day of the fourth week prior to the birth," and, since four weeks before birth was within two weeks of her quit, she was a "covered individual" under the Temporary Disability Benefits Act, and T.D. was payable to her under the employer's private plan (N.J.S.A. 43:21-27(b)), and she was not eligible for U.C., or for T.D. from the state fund. N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(f)(1)(G); 43:21-33, 34. Thus, as Iorio's brief says, "Two arms of the same administrative agency, the Division of Employment Security, rendered diametrically opposed interpretations of the relevant statutory provisions. These conflicting interpretations resulted in denial to plaintiff of any disability benefits whatsoever although it [was] recognized [by both] that she is entitled to statutory benefits."

However, before this court Bell does not limit its argument to the proposition that Iorio was not disabled within two

weeks of her quit. Rather, it argues that she is not entitled to any benefits whatever under the Temporary Disability Benefits Act because under that act "a claimant must establish * * * actual disability to perform the particular duties of his or her employment," for "the conclusive presumption of disability" contained in N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1) applies only to U.C. benefits.

The Board of Review and Iorio take the opposite view, contending that the Unemployment Compensation Act (R.S. 43:21-1 to 24.4) must be construed with the Temporary Disability Benefits Act (N.J.S.A. 43:21-25 to 56) as one organic whole, and so construed, the conclusive presumption of disability during the four weeks before and the four weeks after birth applies to every related provision of both acts even though it is spelled out only in N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1).

All parties concede that the statute is "bewildering" and a study of its provisions "unrewarding," as Justice Hall said in Butler v. Bakelite Co., 32 N.J. 154, 162 (1960). Bell argues for a literal and grammatical construction, which would limit the effect of the conclusive presumption of disability to U.C. On the other hand, the Board of Review and Iorio argue that the Legislature undoubtedly intended that the conclusive presumption was to apply to T.D. as well as to U.C., and the statute should be so construed.

The Board points out in its brief that:

"* * * under the construction placed by the Board of Review upon the 1961 amendments to the Unemployment Compensation Law and the Temporary Disability Benefits Law, the established practice of the Division has been, and is being followed, to hold the unemployed pregnant woman eligible for disability benefits for the four weeks immediately before the expected birth of child under subsection 4(f)(1) of the Unemployment Compensation Law where she is not a 'covered individual,' or under the State plan where it is established that she is a 'covered individual' under the Temporary Disability Benefits Law but not covered under a private plan, upon the mere production of a doctor's certificate fixing the date of the expected birth of her child without requiring proof of actual disability due to pregnancy. Any claim that may be made for unemployment benefits for this four-week period immediately before the expected birth of child is automatically denied.

This established practice and interpretation of the 1961 amendments by the administrative agency charged with administration of the statute is entitled to great weight upon judicial review of the statute. * * *." (Emphasis ours)

In Van Kleek v. O'Hanlon, 21 N.J.L. 582, 591 (E. & A. 1845), the court said that "the supposed general intention of the legislature is to be considered in due subservience to the actual language used; and the language is not to be strained to support such supposed intention." However, as the court said in Leitner v. Citizens Casualty Co. of N.Y., 135 N.J.L. 608 (E. & A. 1947):

"A statute often speaks as plainly by inference, and by means of the purpose that underlies it, as in any other manner. A policy that is clearly implied is as effective as that which is expressed. Kobylarz v. Mercer, 130 N.J.L. 44, 52; Brandon v. Board of Com'rs of Town of Montclair, 124 N.J.L. 135; affirmed, 125 N.J.L. 367. When words are not explicit, the intention is to be collected from the context and the occasion and necessity of the law and from the mischief felt, and the remedy in view; and the intention is to be taken or presumed according to what is consonant to reason and good discretion. The statute should have a rational construction consistent with its manifest purpose, and not one which will substantially defeat its object. * * *" (at pp. 611-612)

Therefore, it is necessary to trace the development of the Unemployment Compensation and Temporary Disability Benefits Acts, and especially of those sections with which we are here concerned.

We begin with the history of the statute set forth in Butler v. Bakelite Co., supra:

"* * * employee welfare legislation in New Jersey commenced with the workmen's compensation act providing benefits for work-connected disability regardless of fault. The next step was the unemployment compensation law (R.S. 43:21-1 et seq.), enacted to lighten the burden of economic insecurity on the worker due to involuntary unemployment caused without fault on his part. R.S. 43:21-2. A condition of eligibility for benefits is that the unemployed individual be able to and available for work * * *. N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c). * * *.

From a social standpoint there remained gaps in the benefit scheme. There was no protection against wage loss resulting from disabling, involuntary, non-compensable ...

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