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Henry v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


October 17, 2008

RODNEY HENRY, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT AND SWEDE FARMS, INC., RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 163,782.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 2, 2008

Before Judges Payne and Lyons.

Petitioner, Rodney Henry, appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review holding Henry ineligible to receive unemployment benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5 as the result of its determination that Henry had voluntarily quit his job because of his dissatisfaction with his working conditions.

The facts of the matter, gleaned from the transcript of a telephonic hearing before an appeal tribunal at which Henry, company manager Joseph Brancazio, and warehouse supervisor/shop steward Jason Hernandez testified, are as follows: Henry was employed by Swede Farms, Inc., a food distributor, on June 1, 2007. At the time of his hiring, Henry, who possesses a commercial driver's license, understood that he would be driving a New Jersey route during weekday, daytime hours. However, the position was taken by a union member with greater seniority than Henry possessed as a new employee. Henry was therefore assigned to cover the routes of drivers on vacation and to fill in for other vacationing employees assigned to the warehouse, conducting loading and unloading duties, or performing other tasks of which Henry was capable. Additionally, Henry was placed on call, and his hours therefore varied widely. Testimony also disclosed that Henry was required to participate in a period of training that required driving the route with a more experienced driver and learning warehouse procedures applicable to the company's extensive product line.

On or about August 2, 2007, after two months of work, Henry quit, stating that he was dissatisfied with the jobs that had been given to him, which were different from that which he anticipated. However, at the employer's request, he returned as a substitute for a vacationing worker whose job he had been scheduled to cover. On August 10, defendant again left his employment, and did not return.

Some testimony suggested that in the period between August 2, 2007 and August 10, Henry was given a truck to drive that had faulty steering and a faulty emergency brake. According to Henry, he complained about the truck, but that it was not repaired. Both employer witnesses stated that they had no direct knowledge of Henry's complaints, and Brancazio testified that it was company policy to take a truck out of service until repaired if notified in writing that the truck was not operating properly. In any event, Henry denied that he resigned because of the employer's failure to repair the truck's brake and steering. We thus decline to consider this evidence on appeal.

N.J.S.A. 43:21-5 provides in relevant part:

An individual 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 . . . and has earned in employment at least six times the individual's weekly benefit rate, as determined in each case.

New Jersey courts have construed the phrase "good cause" to mean "cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 214 (1997) (quoting Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983) in turn quoting Condo v. Bd. of Review, 158 N.J. Super. 172, 174 (App. Div. 1978)). A claimant has the "responsibility to do whatever is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed." Ibid. (quoting Heulitt v. Bd. of Review, 300 N.J. Super. 407, 414 (App. Div. 1997) in turn quoting Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 53-54 (App. Div. 1964)).

The claimant bears the burden of proving his right to unemployment benefits, id. at 218, a burden that the Board of Review found that Henry had failed to meet. We are mindful of our limited role in reviewing the Board's decision.

Unless a Court finds that the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, the agency's ruling should not be disturbed. See In re Warren, 117 N.J. 295, 296 (1989). The Court "can intervene only in those rare circumstances in which an agency action is clearly inconsistent with its statutory mission or with other State policy." George Harms Constr. v. Turnpike Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994).

[Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210.]

Moreover, we must accord deference to the Board's expertise and superior knowledge of unemployment compensation matters. Ibid.

As the Brady Court has noted, the Unemployment Compensation Act has as its mission "to afford protection against the hazards of economic insecurity due to involuntary unemployment." Id. at 211 (quoting Yardville Supply Co. v. Bd. of Review, 114 N.J. 371, 374 (1989)).

"The purpose of the [A]ct is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own." Yardville, supra, 114 N.J. at 375 (quoting Battaglia v. Bd. of review, 14 N.J. Super. 24, 27 (App. Div. 1951)). Nonetheless, "it is also important to preserve the [unemployment insurance trust] fund against claims by those not intended to share in its benefits. The basic policy of the law is advanced as well when benefits are denied in improper cases as when they are allowed in proper cases." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 212 (quoting Yardville, supra, 114 N.J. at 374).

Our review of the record satisfies us that, in this case, the Board's decision was not inconsistent with the statutory mission of the Unemployment Compensation Act, was adequately supported by the record, and was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. As the Board found, Henry quit his employment because of dissatisfaction with working conditions that differed from those that he anticipated at the time he was hired. However, we have previously found that such dissatisfaction is insufficient to constitute good cause. See Heulitt, supra, 300 N.J. Super. at 413-15. As we stated there, "[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." Id. at 414 (quoting Zielenski, supra, 85 N.J. Super. at 54). Since Henry's proofs show no more, his claim was properly denied.

Affirmed.

20081017

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