September 18, 2007
SAKEYNAH B. SAWYER, CLAIMANT-APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket 45,182.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 10, 2007
Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and C.S. Fisher.
Claimant Sakeynah B. Sawyer worked for the Newark Board of Education as a teacher until she was discharged in June 2002. She filed a claim for unemployment benefits on September 15, 2002, and received benefits at the rate of $475 for the week ending October 12, 2002, until the week ending June 14, 2003. However, Sawyer became employed by the Orange Board of Education (Orange BOE) from October 2002 until June 30, 2003. Despite this fact, she continued to call the automated telephone benefits system to certify that she was not working. This constitutes fraud pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(g)(1).
The Director of the Division of Unemployment Insurance (Director) determined that Sawyer: (1) was disqualified for benefits for a period of one year from July 11, 2004; and (2) was liable for a refund in the amount of $17,100 pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d)(1) and a fine in the amount of $4,275 pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(a). Thus, her total liability equaled $21,375.
Sawyer appealed the Director's determination. The Appeal Tribunal held a hearing in October 2004. However, Sawyer was unable to proceed due to her inability to obtain an attorney. The appeal was dismissed, but later reinstated.
At the second hearing, Sawyer testified that she continued to call the automated telephone benefits system and certify that she was not working because she thought she was entitled to the continued receipt of benefits, having been unemployed from June 2002 through mid-October 2002. Sawyer also testified that, "someone in Trenton told her she could collect benefits if she was a provisional worker." Sawyer stated that, initially she was working part-time as a teacher on a provisional status for the Orange BOE. However, she conceded that even when she became a permanent employee with the Orange BOE, she continued to collect unemployment benefits. She did not report any of the wages she earned while receiving unemployment benefits. During her testimony, she acknowledged that she "now" understood that she was supposed to report her wages, that she "owed [money] back," and wanted to "get it paid off and done." However, she asked that the debt be reduced by the amount to which she was entitled to during the period when she was unemployed, from June 2002 to October 2002.
The Appeal Tribunal upheld the Director's determination. The Board of Review adopted the findings developed by the Appeal Tribunal and disqualified Sawyer from receiving benefits for one year and ordered Sawyer to pay a $17,100 refund and a $4,275 fine.
On appeal, Sawyer does not challenge the one-year disqualification and only partially challenges the refund order. She concedes that she is "liable for some repayment, but not all" of the amount sought by the Director. She asserts that from June 2002 until mid-October 2002, she was truly unemployed and should not have to return benefits corresponding to this period.
We reject this contention for two reasons. First, Sawyer did not receive any benefits for this period. The first benefit week was the one ending on October 12, 2002. Second, she alleges that the claim she filed in September 2002, should have been backdated to June 2002. Even if this is true, Sawyer never sought to amend her application. Therefore, she waived any claim for that period.
The proofs and admissions clearly show that she continued to receive benefits during the entire period of her employment. Therefore, the Board's decision is supported by sufficient credible evidence on the record as a whole. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D). As a result, Sawyer is liable for both the repayment of the benefits wrongfully received and the fine. N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d)(1) and -(a). Her actions also warrant the one-year disqualification. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(g)(1).
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