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Auletto v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


September 12, 2008

DIANE T. AULETTO, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND OCEAN SPRAY CRANBERRIES, INC. RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 152,023.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 2, 2008

Before Judges Messano and Chambers.

Petitioner Diane T. Auletto appeals from the denial of her application for unemployment benefits. Since the record supports the Board of Review's conclusion that she was ineligible for unemployment benefits, we affirm.

Auletto, an employee of Ocean Spray Cranberries since 1988, was suspended on April 21, 2006, for a disciplinary infraction. On April 24, 2006, she was told that she could return to work on April 26, 2006. She did not do so. She thereafter applied for and received short-term disability for six months until October 24, 2006. Her claim for long-term disability benefits was denied. She retired on March 1, 2007.

Auletto's application for unemployment benefits was denied by the Deputy of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. A telephonic hearing was held on June 26, 2007. In a written decision dated June 27, 2007, the Appeals Examiner found Auletto disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits as of February 26, 2007, because "she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." The Board of Review upheld that decision in a written opinion dated August 15, 2007, noting that there "is no evidence that the claimant's medical condition was work connected as there is no medical evidence to establish a relationship between the work and the claimant's illness." This appeal followed.

On appeal, an agency's ruling will not be overturned unless it is "arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable." Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). If the Board of Review's factual findings are supported "by sufficient credible evidence," the court will accept them. Ibid. Applying this standard, we find that the record contains substantial evidence to support the Board of Review's conclusion that Auletto was not eligible for unemployment benefits.

A person is disqualified from unemployment benefits if she "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). The employee has the burden of proving that this standard has been met. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(c); Brady v. Bd. of Review, supra, 152 N.J. at 218.

Auletto denies that she left work voluntarily contending that stress from the work environment aggravated certain underlying health problems and prevented her from returning to work. At the hearing below, she testified that when she left work, she was under a doctor's care and that she was unable to return to work due to high blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and depression. Auletto testified that her doctor said she was unable to work due to the stressful work environment. Further, she testified that according to her doctor, the work environment had not caused her medical conditions, but rather had compounded them.

Auletto submitted no medical documentation to support these assertions. The only medical evidence she presented was a doctor's note read into the record, which merely stated "Diane Auletto has been under my care from May 22, 2006 to June 15, 2006." It did not account for the time period between April 26, 2006, and May 22, 2006, nor the time period after October 24, 2006. Further, the doctor did not say that she was unable to work, nor did he attribute her medical condition in whole or in part to work. Indeed, the note did not even indicate what Auletto's medical problem was nor how it was related to her work.

A person may be eligible for unemployment benefits due to a medical condition aggravated by working conditions provided other suitable work was not available. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(b) ("An individual who leaves a job due to a physical and/or mental condition or state of health which does not have a work-connected origin but is aggravated by working conditions will not be disqualified for benefits for voluntarily leaving work without good cause 'attributable to such work,' provided there was no other suitable work available which the individual could have performed within the limits of the disability."). However, when seeking relief under this section, a "medical certification shall be required to support a finding of good cause attributable to work." N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(d). Auletto submitted no certifications to substantiate her claim that she was unable to work due to medical conditions aggravated by the work environment, and thus she could not establish that she was entitled to unemployment benefits.

The denial of the unemployment benefits to Auletto is affirmed.

20080912

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