August 15, 2007
REBECCA CAMPANA, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND CAPITAL HEALTH SYSTEM, RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 58,950.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 7, 2007
Before Judges Sabatino and Baxter.
Rebecca Campana ("Campana") appeals the May 4, 2006 final decision of the Board of Review denying her claim for unemployment benefits. We affirm.
These are the pertinent facts. Campana worked at a hospital as a medical staff coordinator for Capital Health System ("Capital") from March 2003 through October 2004. During the course of her employment, friction developed between Campana and her supervisor, the Director of Medical Staff Services. According to Campana, her supervisor unjustifiably criticized her work, often speaking to her in a demeaning fashion in front of other employees. When Campana complained to her supervisor that she was not being fairly treated, the supervisor allegedly rebuffed her, telling her instead that she needed to "shape up." Despite these problems, Campana acknowledges that she only discussed them informally with other Capital managers and human resource personnel and that she never pursued a formal grievance.
Eventually Campana's relationship with her supervisor boiled over, after the supervisor had accused her of improper handling of a computer database. That accusation prompted Campana to resign from Capital on October 21, 2004. In her exit interview, Campana specifically attributed her resignation to the harassing conduct of her supervisor.
In her own testimony before the Department of Labor and Workforce Development's Appeal Tribunal, the former supervisor denied treating Campana in an insulting manner. The supervisor also noted that Campana never lodged a formal complaint about her work environment or ever asked to be transferred to a different department. With respect to the computer dispute, the supervisor maintained that she simply had asked Campana to supply the source codes so that the hospital could access work-related information in a database that Campana had compiled with her husband.
Campana also alleged that her personal health declined while she was having difficulties with her supervisor. However, she did not raise those alleged health problems at Capital's employee health fair. Nor did Campana seek a medical leave of absence, or contemporaneously document her medical problems with her employer.
After Campana resigned from Capital, she applied for unemployment benefits. Initially a deputy claims examiner approved her claim. Thereafter, Capital filed a timely appeal of the benefits award. Although Capital did not appear at the first scheduled hearing due to notice problems, Capital did participate in the rescheduled hearing conducted by telephone in October 2005. That hearing resulted in the Appeal Tribunal reversing the original benefits award.
After the Board of Review directed that the record be supplemented with additional proofs, a third telephonic hearing was scheduled. That final hearing, in which both sides participated, was conducted on February 3, 2006. On February 10, 2006, the Appeal Tribunal issued a written decision, again finding Campana disqualified for benefits.
Among other things, the Appeals Examiner found in the February 10, 2006 decision that Campana "did not make a reasonable effort to preserve her job," noting that she failed to file a formal grievance against her supervisor or request an internal transfer. The Appeals Examiner also found that Campana failed to "demonstrate that her medical condition was so severe for her to leave her job." Accordingly, the Appeals Examiner concluded that Campana "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work," and thus was disqualified for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).
With the assistance of counsel, Campana administratively appealed the February 2006 decision to the Board of Review. On May 4, 2006, the Board of Review rejected that appeal, adopting the findings of fact and legal conclusions of the Appeal Tribunal. This appeal ensued.
On appeal, Campana reiterates her contention that she was forced to leave her employment with Capital because of a hostile work environment perpetuated by her supervisor. She contends that she quit only with "good cause attributable to the work," and therefore is entitled to unemployment benefits. She also contends, as a procedural matter, that Capital's administrative appeal was untimely and should not have been permitted by the Appeal Tribunal.
Our scope of review is a narrow one. In general, absent constitutional infirmities not involved here, we will not disturb final decisions of administrative agencies unless they are shown to be contrary to the law, or lack substantial evidence in the record, see George Harms Const. Co. v. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994), or are arbitrary and capricious, see Aqua Beach Condo. Ass'n. v. Dep't. of Cmty. Affairs, 186 N.J. 5, 16 (2006). Campana's arguments fall short of satisfying these burdens.*fn1
N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) prescribes that a claimant for unemployment benefits is ineligible if he or she "has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." Ibid.
In construing that statutory "good cause" requirement, we have noted that "it is the employee's responsibility to do what is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed." Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 288 (App. Div. 1983)(citations omitted).
We acknowledge that, in some instances, a supervisor's unrelenting harassment of a worker may be sufficiently severe to provide a legitimate reason for the worker to resign, see Associated Util. Serv., Inc. v. Bd. of Review, 131 N.J. Super. 584, 587-88 (App. Div. 1974). The worker still has an obligation, however, before resigning, to undertake reasonable efforts to attempt to rectify the situation and remain employed. Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 287.
Here, the Appeals Examiner duly considered the testimony of Campana and her supervisor, and found that Campana had not exhausted such reasonable measures to keep her job. Campana declined to file a formal grievance, despite company procedures available for that very purpose. Nor did Campana explore a possible transfer to serve under a different supervisor. Instead, she had only informal discussions with persons in management. Although Campana asserts that she feared retaliation if she had lodged a formal complaint, such fears are speculative at best. They also ignore the legal protection she would have against improper retaliation for exercising her rights as an employee. See, e.g., N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 through -14.
We also sustain the agency's determination that Campana's medical proofs were insufficient. Campana tendered a January 30, 2006 letter from her internist, which stated that he had treated her on several unspecified occasions for anxiety attacks, stress, depression, chest pains, nosebleeds and an inability to sleep. The physician's letter noted that those symptoms began around April 2004. The doctor opined, although not within a reasonable degree of medical probability, that the symptoms had resulted from poor treatment and harassment by Campana's supervisor, and that her continued exposure to that work environment would likely worsen Campana's condition.
However, the physician did not attest, as our case law requires, that Campana unequivocally had to resign out of medical necessity and had no other alternatives. See Brown v. Board of Review, 117 N.J. Super. 399, 404-05 (App. Div. 1971). Indeed, the letter states, quite tellingly, that the physician had discussed various "options for treatment" with Campana. Moreover, the credibility of Campana's medical problems is undermined, as the Appeals Examiner noted, by her failure to present or document them with her employer, or to seek a medical leave of absence, before she chose to resign. On that score, the record contains testimony from Capital's representative that the hospital maintained an employee health center, where Campana could have been treated if she was not feeling well at work. Campana failed to take advantage of such on-site medical care.
In general, Campana simply took matters into her own hands, rather than affording her employer a reasonable opportunity to respond to her difficulties through appropriate channels. Given our deferential standard of review, we are satisfied that the agency's denial of benefits comported with the applicable law, was supported by substantial record evidence, and was neither arbitrary nor capricious.