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Owusu-Ansah v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


April 23, 2008

SHAWNETTE L. OWUSU-ANSAH, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND COMMERCE BANK, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Board of Review, Docket No. 121,610.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted April 14, 2008

Before Judges Parrillo and Gilroy.

Claimant Shawnette L. Owusu-Ansah appeals from the November 3, 2006, final decision of the Board of Review (Board), which affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's decision, holding her disqualified for unemployment benefits, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), for having left work voluntarily, without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.

Claimant was employed by Commerce Bank North from July 26, 2004, through May 25, 2006, as a fulltime Assistant Head Teller. On July 2, 2006, claimant filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits. On July 31, 2006, a Deputy Director of the Division of Unemployment Insurance found claimant eligible for benefits without disqualification from July 2, 2006. The employer appealed to the Appeal Tribunal. On August 30, 2006, the Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeal without prejudice because the employer's witnesses were not able to appear for the scheduled hearing.

After the appeal was reinstated, a hearing was conducted before the Appeal Tribunal on September 22, 2006, during which the Appeal Tribunal heard testimony from claimant and from the employer's witnesses: Jeffrey Furze, a bank Branch Manager; Lisa Hands, an Assistant Branch Manager; and Michelle Rodgers, an employee relations specialist. On October 3, 2006, the Appeal Tribunal issued its decision, determining claimant ineligible for benefits as of June 4, 2006, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).

On October 6, 2006, claimant filed an appeal to the Board. On November 2, 2006, the Board affirmed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal.

On appeal, claimant argues:

POINT I. CLAIMANT'S LEAVING HER JOB WITH EMPLOYER [WAS] DUE TO AN [INAPPROPRIATE] REQUEST TO TRAIN ANOTHER EMPLOYEE TO TAKE HER POSITION AND THEN HAVE HER STEP DOWN FROM HER PRIOR POSITION, MEDICAL REASONS AND UN[FAIR] TREATMENT TOWARDS HER BY THE MANAGER.

FACTORS RELATED TO THESE ISSUES WHICH AGGRAVATED HER MEDICAL CONDITION DEMONSTRATE GOOD CAUSE ATTRIBUTABLE TO THE WORK AND THEREFORE SHE S[H]OUDN'T HAVE BEEN DISQUALIFIED FROM RECEIVING BENEFITS.

Appellate courts have a limited role in reviewing decisions of an administrative agency. Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963); State-Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark v. Gaines, 309 N.J. Super. 327, 331 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 156 N.J. 381 (1998). There should not be an independent assessment of the evidence by the appellate court. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). The appellate court must accord a strong presumption of reasonableness to the decision of an administrative agency. City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council, 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S.Ct. 400, 66 L.Ed. 2d 245 (1980). Thus, determinations of an administrative agency must be given great deference. We cannot overturn an agency's decision that is based on sufficient evidence, even if this court would have reached a different result. Clowes v. Terminix Int'l, Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 578 (1988); Outland v. Bd. of Trs., 326 N.J. Super. 395, 400 (App. Div. 1999).

We have reviewed the record in its entirety and conclude that claimant's argument is without sufficient merit to warrant a discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). The decision of the Board is supported by substantial, credible evidence in the administrative record. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). The Appeals Examiner, who had the opportunity to hear testimony and assess credibility, found claimant's testimony concerning why she left employment less credible than the employer's account of events. We defer to those findings on credibility. Logan v. Bd. of Review, 299 N.J. Super. 346, 348 (App. Div. 1997). Nevertheless, we add the following comments.

Claimant argues that she left employment for good cause, asserting that adverse working conditions had aggravated her hypertension. We disagree.

The record does not support claimant's assertion of an intolerable work environment. Claimant's concern over working late on Friday evenings was a legitimate concern because of her need to attend to her children. However, that issue was personal, and not related to her employment. Nonetheless, the employer attempted to accommodate claimant by offering to change her position from that of Assistant Head Teller to a Teller #2 position, thereby removing claimant's managerial responsibilities, without a reduction in pay. Initially, claimant was willing to accept the demotion, but refused after learning that she would have had to train her successor. Such reason does not constitute good cause under the statute. Moreover, "[u]nemployment compensation is an insurance, not an entitlement, program designed to provide a cushion for workers who are involuntarily unemployed through no fault or act of their own." Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 222 (1997). "A claimant has the 'responsibility to do whatever is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed.'" Id. at 214 (quoting Heulitt v. Bd. of Review, 300 N.J. Super. 407, 414 (App. Div. 1997)). Here, claimant, by refusing to remain employed, albeit in a different position without a reduction in pay, did not do whatever was necessary and reasonable to remain employed.

Claimant's contention that the working conditions had aggravated her medical condition is not supported by the record. Although the record supports claimant's assertion that she suffers from hypertension and that on March 11, 2006, she suffered a central retinal artery occlusion, resulting in a sudden onset of blindness in her left eye, claimant did not present any evidence that either medical condition was causally related to her work environment. See Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 218 ("Claimants bear the burden of proof to establish their right to unemployment benefits."). Accordingly, we affirm for the reasons expressed by the Appeal Tribunal, as modified and affirmed by the Board.

Affirmed.

20080423

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