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Elam v. Board of Review


July 23, 2007


On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, 105,839.

Per curiam.


Submitted July 3, 2007

Before Judges Parker and Seltzer.

Claimant Vanessa Elam appeals from a decision of the Board of Review, rendered on June 1, 2006, finding that claimant was disqualified for benefits because she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work, N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).

At a hearing before the Appeal Tribunal on April 21, 2006, claimant testified that she was employed as a custodian by the Camden Board of Education from October 16, 2003 until December 23, 2005. She testified that she received a letter dated March 1, 2006 terminating her from her position, effective January 3, 2006, because she had abandoned her job. Claimant contended that she did not abandon her job, rather she requested a leave of absence for fourteen days. She claimed that the paperwork for her leave of absence was never processed:

I don't know what happened with the paperwork but they had told me that I had come up to fill the paperwork out and what I did was sent it in there to them and they did not receive the paperwork. And I did not return to the position after the fourteen days. I was really sick[;] I was sick and I was under a lot of pressure and anxiety harassment that sort of thing. So I did not return to the job but I did not quit. I did not . . . voluntarily quit as they stated.

Claimant acknowledged that she was due to return to work on January 3, 2006, but did not do so "because I was really not sick and I was just [under] a lot of pressure at the time[,] stress, anxiety[,] . . . I was really going through something then. And I had . . . asked them for a leave of absence [sic]."

When asked by the examiner why she did not report to work on January 3, 2006, claimant responded:

It was . . . too much stress factors for me . . . . I got like I said hurt the 29th of November and it was a [whole] . . . bunch of mess behind that. I didn't go for workman's comp because the doctor . . . from the Board cleared me. So I didn't feel like I was needed for no workman's compensation. I was going through a whole bunch of stuff behind that.

Claimant testified that she called her employer on January 3 and said she was not going to return to work. She stated that she had medical certificates from her doctors "stating the stress and stuff," but did not have them at the hearing. When asked by the examiner what caused the stress, claimant responded that the high school kids "just purposely dirty it back up" after she had cleaned. She indicated:

One particular incident [the] supervisor makes me mop the floor while the children are still in the building and of course that ended up in [an] altercation and a young man ended up threatening me. Now I scared that somebody's going to fall because they wouldn't listen. And I had you know I was telling them the floor was wet. I didn't want to do it. I ended up in a confrontation with the supervisor because I was afraid one of the kids might fall and get hurt and then I would have been responsible [sic]

She testified that the children "were just being disrespectful." At the conclusion of the hearing, the Appeal Tribunal disqualified claimant from receiving benefits and the Board of Review affirmed.

In this appeal, claimant argues that she did not leave her job voluntarily, that the environment she worked in was "very hostile" and she was "under tremendous stress which [caused] many absences which eventually led to termination." Plaintiff has appended three "medical certificates" to her brief. We cannot consider these certificates, however, because they were not presented to the Appeal Tribunal during the course of the hearing. R. 2:5-4.

Our scope of review of administrative decisions is narrowly circumscribed. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). Our role is to determine "'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record' considering 'the proofs as a whole'" and "with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility." Ibid. (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). We "may not 'engage in an independent assessment of the evidence . . . . '" Ibid. (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999)). We will accord a strong presumption of reasonableness to the decision of an administrative agency. Smith v. Ricci, 89 N.J. 514, 525 (1982). We give great deference to administrative decisions. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 159 (1964). We do not, however, simply rubber stamp the agency's decision. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). An administrative decision will be reversed only when it is found to be "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Ibid.

We have carefully considered the record in light of claimant's arguments and the applicable law. We are satisfied that the decision of the Board of Review is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record as a whole. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D). Here, claimant admitted that she did not return to work after her leave of absence expired. She did not request additional leave time and she acknowledged that on January 3, 2006, she called her employer and said she was not returning to work. She proffered medical certificates that cannot be considered on appeal and there is nothing in the record to indicate that she presented the medical certificates, dated December 22, 2004, January 18 and March 22, 2005, to her employer.



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