September 5, 2008
DAVID ALSTON, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND THE WESTWOOD SHORT HILLS RESTAURANT A/K/A PAPA RAZZI TRATTORIA AND BAR, RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from The Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 108,760.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 26, 2008
Before Judges Lisa and Simonelli.
Appellant David Alston appeals the June 12, 2006 decision of the New Jersey Department of Labor, Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance (the Department), Board of Review (the Board) affirming a May 2, 2006 decision of the Department's Appeal Tribunal denying his claim for unemployment benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). On appeal, Alston contends he should not have been disqualified from benefits because the hostile work environment created by his superiors constituted good cause for his resignation. We reject this contention and affirm.
On December 13, 2004, appellant began his employment as a food server for The Westwood Short Hills Restaurant, Inc. (a/k/a Papa Razzi Trattoria and Bar). He testified that he resigned on March 15, 2006 because he was "fed up with working at the job," he disliked "just continually being there"; his relationship with Assistant Manager Michael Barbosa "really, really wasn't too good[,]" and he believed Barbosa's management style was "very hostile[.]"
Alston gave the following examples of Barbosa's alleged hostile treatment: (1) in or about June or July 2005, Barbosa "forced" him to tip a "runner"*fn1 more than he was required to; (2) Barbosa canceled his transaction on a computer which both were using; (3) Barbosa gestured him to answer a ringing telephone in front of visiting company managers; and (4) Barbosa told him to get off a rug that Barbosa was attempting to move.
Alston admitted he was never advised that his job was in jeopardy, and there was no evidence he was in danger of being terminated. There is also no evidence that prior to his resignation Alston complained about Barbosa. In fact, Alston admitted he "did not call the restaurant's corporate office to discuss his problems because he felt many of the incidents were "petty[.]"
On March 22, 2006, Alston filed a claim for unemployment benefits. On March 30, 2006, a Deputy of the Department determined that Alston "voluntarily left [his] job because [he was] dissatisfied with [his] working conditions" and "did not exhaust all opportunities to resolve the problems with [his] employer before leaving." The Deputy concluded that Alston was disqualified for benefits because his "reason for leaving does not constitute good cause attributable to the work."
On or about April 3, 2006, Alston appealed to the Appeal Tribunal. A hearing was held on April 28, 2006. On May 2, 2006, the Appeal Tribunal affirmed the Deputy's decision. The Appeal Tribunal concluded that:
In this matter, [Alston] resigned his position without taking reasonable steps to resolve the situation. [Alston] could have called the corporate office in an attempt to resolve the situation before leaving available work to become unemployed. A personality conflict with co-workers is not good cause for leaving a job.
On or about May 11, 2006, Alston appealed to the Board of Review. On June 12, 2006, the Board of Review affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's decision.
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 a 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 (1990)); 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)).
Based upon our review of the record, we conclude there is substantial credible evidence to support the Appeal Tribunal's decision. Alston's working conditions were not so abnormal or oppressive to justify good cause for resigning. At most, Alston had a personality conflict with Barbosa and resigned out of mere dissatisfaction with Barbosa's criticisms and style of management. See Gerber v. Bd. of Review, 313 N.J. Super. 37, 40 (App. Div. 1998) (a supervisor's reprimands, while arguable improper and humiliating, "were not so burdensome as to justify claimant's departure from the job."). Furthermore, despite alleging he resigned due to a "hostile work environment," Alston failed to assemble any coherent argument or facts supporting that allegation.