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Stroli v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


May 20, 2008

DEBORAH G. STROLI, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW AND BERGEN COMMUNITY BLOOD BANK, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Department of Labor, Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance, Docket No. 139,196.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued March 12, 2008

Before Judges Lihotz and Simonelli.

Appellant, Deborah G. Stroli (Stroli), appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review (the Board) that affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's determination that she was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). We affirm.

The following facts are summarized from the record. Stroli began her employment as a registered nurse with the Bergen Community Blood Bank (BCBB) in June 1987. During the last four years of her employment, she was the trainer for donor services for the phlebotomist and the aphersis technician.

Stroli claims that in the beginning of July 2005, she began complaining, both orally and in writing, to her supervisor, Bernadette O'Keefe (O'Keefe), about working conditions at BCBB, and that her complaints were not being addressed. Stroli claimed that she was concerned because BCBB had been closed in May 2000 due to safety issues. However, Stroli admitted that she never made O'Keefe aware of the fact that she was not satisfied with the way O'Keefe was handling her complaints. She claimed she did not do so because she feared retaliation.

In a report dated November 29, 2006, the Quality Assurance Committee, comprised of Stroli and other co-workers, listed several workplace deficiencies, which were based upon Stroli's complaints. Before all of the deficiencies were resolved, Stroli tendered her resignation. Stroli decided to resign when O'Keefe directed her to add three more people to her training class, which increased the number of students to thirteen, a class size Stroli believed was unsafe. On November 30, 2007, Stroli issued a letter of resignation to O'Keefe, effective December 16, 2006, stating:

For nineteen years I have been a dedicated employee at Community Blood Services. I take pride in giving Quality service and will not compromise [the] high standards in training of Donor Services Employees.

I am put in a position that I feel may compromise the quality of service to the blood center, therefore I would rather resign than compromise the safety of the donors.

I am giving notice of resignation effective December 16, 2006.

Stroli never raised her safety concerns with anyone in the Human Services Department. She also did not consult the company's CEO, as she had done on a previous occasion, or the company's Vice President of Operations, who was O'Keefe's supervisor.

Regarding workplace safety, BCBB is regulated by ten international, federal and state agencies, and is inspected on an annual basis. As of the date of the hearing before the deputy director, BCBB had passed all of its inspections.

Stroli applied for unemployment benefits on December 17, 2006. A deputy claims examiner held her eligible for benefits without disqualification. BCBB appealed. The Appeal Tribunal reversed and determined that Stroli was disqualified for benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. The Appeal tribunal held, in relevant part, as follows:

[T]he claimant gave notice of resignation effective 12/16/2006. She opted to resign after her supervisor asked her to add three more students to a training class. The claimant felt that a total of 15 students was excessive and it constituted a violation of safety rules. The claimant did not address the issue with Human Resources prior to giving notice of resignation. The claimant was already dissatisfied with her employer's repeated violations to safety standards. The claimant was also unhappy with the way her complaints were handled by her supervisor. The claimant never discussed her grievances with anyone else from management. The claimant did not complain[] in fear of retaliation.

The claimant's failure to discuss her grievances with management because she feared retaliation, is not justified. The claimant did not take reasonable steps to resolve her complaints prior to leaving work and her actions are evidence of a willful intent to sever the employment relationship.

The claimant is disqualified for benefits, under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), as of 12/17/2006, as the claimant left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work.

Stroli appealed. The Board affirmed the Appeal Tribunal. This appeal followed.

Our role in reviewing an agency decision is limited. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). In challenging the agency's determination, a claimant carries a substantial burden of persuasion, and the determination by the agency carries a presumption of reasonableness. Gloucester County Welfare Bd. v. State Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390 (1983) (citing City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council in the Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S.Ct. 400, 66 L.Ed. 2d 245 (1980)). We accord substantial deference to the interpretation given by the agency to the statute it is charged with enforcing. Bd. of Educ. of Neptune v. Neptune Twp. Educ. Ass'n, 144 N.J. 16, 31 (1996) (citing Merin v. Maglaki, 126 N.J. 430, 436-37 (1992)). We also give due regard to the agency's credibility findings. Logan v. Bd. of Review, 299 N.J. Super. 346, 348 (App. Div. 1997) (citing Jackson v. Concord Co., 54 N.J. 113, 117 (1969)).

We will not reverse an agency decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as whole. In re the Distribution of Liquid Assets Upon Dissolution of the Union County Reg'l High Sch. Dist. No. 1, 168 N.J. 1, 10-11 (2001); R & R Mktg., L.L.C. v. Brown-Forman Corp., 158 N.J. 170, 175 (1999) (citing Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co. v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 101 N.J. 95, 103 (1985)); In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656-57 (1999) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 581 (1980)); Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210-11 (citing In re Warren, 117 N.J. 295, 296 (1989)). "The scope of review of an administrative decision is . . . 'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record' considering 'the proofs as a whole,' with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility." Taylor, supra, 158 N.J. at 656 (1999) (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). Applying these principles, we affirm.

An employee shall be disqualified for 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[.] [N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).]

An employee who has left work voluntarily has the burden of proving that he or she "did so with good cause attributable to the work." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 218 (citing Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 51 (App. Div. 1964)); Stauhs v. Bd. of Review, Div. of Employment Sec., 93 N.J. Super. 451, 457 (App. Div. 1967); Morgan v. Bd. of Review, Div. of Employment Sec., 77 N.J. Super. 209, 213 (App. Div. 1962).

"While the statute does not define 'good cause,' our courts have construed the statute to mean 'cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed.'" Domenico v. Bd. of Review, Dep't of Labor & Indus., 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983) (quoting Condo v. Bd. of Review, Dep't of Labor & Indus., 158 N.J. Super. 172, 174 (App. Div. 1978)). An employee who leaves work for good, but personal, causes is not deemed to have left work voluntarily with good cause. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 213; Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 457 (1982). Also, "'[m]ere dissatisfaction with working conditions which are not shown to be abnormal or do not affect health, does not constitute good cause for leaving work voluntarily.'" Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 288 (quoting Medwick v. Bd. of Review, Div. of Employment Sec., Dep't of Labor & Indus., 69 N.J. Super. 338, 345 (App. Div. 1961)).

Here, the Board's determination that appellant left work without good cause attributable to the work is amply supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole, and is not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.

Affirmed.

20080520

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