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Yardville Supply Co. v. Board of Review

Decided: March 23, 1989.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock and Garibaldi. For affirmance -- Justices O'Hern and Stein. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J. O'Hern, J., dissenting. Justice Stein joins in this opinion.


[114 NJ Page 372] Ernest Sparks, a truck driver, lost his job after his driving privileges were suspended due to his conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI). He sought and was granted unemployment compensation benefits. We hold that he should have been disqualified from collecting benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work."

On December 28, 1984, Ernest Sparks was arrested for DWI. His arrest occurred during non-working hours. At the time Sparks was employed by the Yardville Supply Company as a tractor-trailer driver, although on occasion he worked "in the yard". Sparks promptly notified Yardville of the DWI charges pending against him. He was told that an effort would be made to assign him to non-driving duties if his driving privileges were ultimately suspended.

Subsequently, Sparks' driver's license was suspended for a period of six months. Sparks immediately informed Yardville of the suspension and inquired into the possibility of continuing to work at Yardville in a non-driving capacity. He was informed that no other work was available.

Sparks filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Department of Labor, Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance. The claim was approved. Yardville appealed, and after a hearing, the Appeals Examiner affirmed the determination of eligibility, finding that Sparks had not "left work voluntarily" under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). In addition, he found that Sparks should not be disqualified for "misconduct connected with the work" under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(b).*fn1 The Board of Review upheld this decision.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board's decision in Yardville v. Board of Review, 222 N.J. Super. 201 (1988). It held that Sparks' loss of employment stemming from the suspension of his driving privileges does not constitute a voluntary quit under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). While recognizing that Sparks' off-duty traffic infraction may have been voluntarily committed the court nevertheless found that it is "contrary to both logic and experience to conclude that voluntary commission of the

offense is equatable with a voluntary separation from employment." Id. at 205. The court also held that Sparks could not be disqualified from receiving benefits for "misconduct connected with the work" under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(b), because his off-duty conduct, while blameworthy, did not evince "a deliberate, willful, or wanton disregard of the employer's interest." Ibid. (quoting Continental Oil Co. v. Board of Review, 568 P. 2d 727, 731 (Utah 1977)). We granted Yardville's petition for certification. 111 N.J. 583 (1988).


New Jersey's Unemployment Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -56, (the Act), was enacted in 1936. The public policy behind the Act is to afford protection against the hazards of economic insecurity due to involuntary unemployment. N.J.S.A. 43:21-2 (emphasis added). See Krauss v. A. & M. Karagheusian, 13 N.J. 447, 455 (1953); Schock v. Board of Review, Employment Sec., 89 N.J. Super. 118, 125 (App.Div.1965), aff'd, 48 N.J. 121 (1966). In order to further its remedial and beneficial purposes, the law is to be construed liberally in favor of allowance of benefits. Nonetheless, it is also important to preserve the fund against claims by those not intended to share in its benefits. The basic policy of the law is advanced as well when benefits are denied in improper cases as when they are allowed in proper cases. Krauss, supra, 13 N.J. at 455-56; Schock, supra, 89 N.J. Super. at 125.

Prior to 1961 the Act did not disqualify claimants who "left work voluntarily for good cause" from receiving unemployment benefits, regardless of whether good cause was attributable to work. In 1961, however, the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) to provide that an individual shall be disqualified from receiving benefits

(a) For the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work, and for each week thereafter until the individual becomes reemployed and works four weeks in employment, which may include employment for the federal government, and has earned in employment

at least six times the individual's weekly benefit rate, as determined in each case. (emphasis supplied).*fn2

The issue here is whether a truck driver whose decision to drink and drive resulted in the loss of his driver's license, a prerequisite to his employment, has left work voluntarily without good cause pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). We hold that he has. Because of his actions, Sparks is no longer able to do the job that he was hired to do. Yardville had no control over Sparks' reckless decision to gamble his driver's license. It would be unfair to make Yardville bear the economic cost of Sparks' misconduct.

Sparks is not the sort of "involuntarily" unemployed worker that the Act is designed to protect. The policy underlying the Act is summed up in Schock, supra, 89 N.J. Super. at 125, quoting Battaglia v. Board of Review, 14 N.J. Super. 24, 27 (App.Div.1951):

It is not every case of unemployment which entitles an unemployed person to benefits. The purpose of the act is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own, until he can find employment or for the period ...

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