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Capuano v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


June 19, 2008

ROSA CAPUANO, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT AND INTEGRATED HEALTHCARE ASSOCIATES, LLC, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 114,381.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 3, 2008

Before Judges Skillman and Yannotti.

Appellant Rosa Capuano appeals from a final determination of the Board of Review (Board) which found that she was disqualified for unemployment benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because she voluntarily left her employment with respondent Integrated Heathcare Associates, LLC, on April 20, 2006, without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.

Appellant was employed by Integrated as a receptionist. She began working for Integrated in 2003. Appellant testified that on April 20, 2006, the office manager Maribel Quinones told her to leave the office because appellant had prepared a progress note for one of the patients incorrectly. Appellant asked Quinones what was wrong with the progress note. According to appellant, Quinones stated that she did not know what was wrong with the notes but one of the doctors wanted her to leave the office. According to appellant, Quinones said that she would call her later.

Appellant insisted that she had not been suspended. She testified that Quinones did not tell her that she was suspended. Appellant indicated that she believed she had been terminated but she conceded that Quinones had not told her that she was discharged. She testified that Quinones called her that evening and asked how she was doing. Appellant told Quinones that she was going to file a claim for unemployment benefits. She maintained that, in the phone conversation, Quinones never asked her whether she wanted to return to work and Quinones did not tell her that she had been suspended.

Quinones testified that on April 20, 2006, one of Integrated's doctors came to her and said that a patient's charts had not been put together correctly. Quinones said that "[c]harting is very important especially on a new patient." The doctor instructed Quinones to send appellant home "until further notice." Quinones said that she told appellant to leave the office and that she would call her.

Appellant asked Quinones why she was being sent home, and Quinones told her that the charting was incorrect. Quinones explained to appellant the problem with the charting and told her that she still had to leave the office. Quinones told appellant that she would call her back but appellant said not to bother. Quinones called appellant after work that day. Quinones said that she told appellant that she did not want her to leave the job but appellant did not want to return to work.

Quinones explained that Integrated had a practice of suspending employees for brief periods of time when an employee failed to improve after having been warned. Quinones said that normally, the suspended employee is called back the next day "and [the employee would] come back." Quinones insisted that, before appellant left the office, she told appellant that she had been suspended until further notice. According to Quinones, appellant's response was not to bother calling her back.

The Board found that the employer had never told appellant that she was discharged. The Board determined that the employer sent appellant home early and informed her that she would be contacted later that day. The Board additionally found that:

[appellant] was aware that the employer's policy was to impose brief periods of suspension when the performance of employees did not improve after receiving warnings. The employer contacted [appellant] the same evening that she was sent home and told [appellant] that she was expected to return to work. [Appellant] indicated that she was not interested in returning.

The Board concluded that appellant had not been discharged. Rather, appellant had been disciplined for her inadequate performance and sent home early. The Board stated that appellant's "comment that the employer should not bother to contact her and [appellant's] disinterest in returning to work when she was contacted by the employer clearly demonstrate that [appellant's] separation was voluntary." The Board therefore determined that appellant was disqualified for unemployment benefits as of April 16, 2006, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). This appeal followed.

Appellant argues that she was discharged by her employer. She maintains that the employer's actions in ordering her to stop working immediately and to leave the premises led her to reasonably believe that she had been discharged. Appellant contends that she should not have been disqualified for unemployment benefits.

The scope of our review in an appeal from a final determination of the Board is strictly limited. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997) (citing Public Serv. Elec. v. N.J. Dept. of Envtl. Protec., 101 N.J. 95, 103 (1985)). Furthermore, "'[i]n reviewing the factual findings made in an unemployment compensation proceeding, the test is not whether an appellate court would come to the same conclusion if the original determination was its to make, but rather whether the factfinder could reasonably so conclude upon the proofs.'" Ibid. (quoting Charatan v. Bd. of Review, 200 N.J. Super. 74, 79 (App. Div. 1985)). "If the Board's factual findings are supported 'by sufficient credible evidence, courts are obliged to accept them.'" Ibid. (quoting Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 459 (1982)). Having thoroughly reviewed the record in light of these principles, we are convinced that the Board's final decision must be affirmed.

New Jersey's Unemployment Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -24.30, provides in pertinent part that an individual who leaves "work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work" is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits "[f]or the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work" until such time as the individual becomes re-employed, works four weeks, and earns "in employment at least six times the individual's weekly benefit rate[.]" N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). The statute does not define "good cause." However, that term has been construed to mean a "'cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed.'" Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 214 (quoting Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983)).

In determining whether an employee had "good cause" to leave his or her employment, we apply a test of "'ordinary common sense and prudence.'" Ibid. (quoting Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 52 (App. Div. 1964)). "Good cause" exists if the employee's decision to leave his or her employment was "'compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances not imaginary, trifling and whimsical ones.'" Ibid. (quoting Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 288. The claimant has the "'responsibility to do whatever is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed.'" Ibid. (quoting Zielenski, supra, 85 N.J. Super. at 53-54).

We are convinced that there is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the Board's finding that appellant voluntarily left her job at Integrated. The record fully supports the Board's finding that, despite appellant's apparent belief that she had been discharged, appellant was never fired. Moreover, appellant was well aware of the employer's policy of temporarily suspending employees for inadequate performance. The Board found that appellant was sent home early because of her inadequate work and she was expected to return to work. The record supports this finding. The record also supports the Board's determination that appellant made clear that she had no interest in returning to work at Integrated after she had been sent home early on April 20, 2006.

In sum, the evidence supports the Board's finding that appellant voluntarily left her position at Integrated without good cause attributable to the work. Based on that finding, the Board properly determined that appellant was disqualified for unemployment benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).

Affirmed.

20080619

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