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Hardy v. Board of Review and Educational Collaborations

December 11, 2008


On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 144,627.

Per curiam.


Submitted November 17, 2008

Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Sabatino.

Claimant, Francine Hardy, appeals a final decision of the Board of Review dated May 18, 2007, adjudicating her claim for unemployment benefits. The Board sustained findings of the Appeal Tribunal, based upon testimony presented in a telephonic hearing held on April 11, 2007, that claimant was ineligible for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Consequently, claimant was required to refund $3,319 in unwarranted benefits that had been extended to her prior to the hearing. We affirm.

These facts emerged at the hearing. In June 2006, claimant was hired on a part-time basis by Educational Collaborations, Inc. ("EC"), a company based in Tinton Falls. EC serves clients with special needs. Claimant worked for EC as a direct care provider. Her principal duties were to serve as a job coach and mentor to a woman with cerebral palsy named Lisa. Among other tasks, claimant would help transport Lisa from her home in Whiting to and from volunteer positions in the community, using a specially-equipped van owned by Lisa's father. Claimant initially worked twenty-five hours a week in this capacity, and Lisa was her sole client. Rachel Howard, one of claimant's supervisors at EC, acknowledged that claimant was a very competent employee.

In September 2006, Lisa was removed from her father's residence and was placed in a group home in Barnegat. The father's van became unavailable, and Lisa discontinued some of her volunteer activities. As a consequence of these changes, claimant's work became more challenging, as she attended to Lisa on-site at the group home.

Because Lisa was no longer traveling to various locations in her father's van, EC reduced claimant's work schedule to between fifteen to twenty hours weekly. Claimant asked Howard to restore her part-time hours. In response, Howard offered claimant a new assignment in Tinton Falls serving other clients, which would involve a twenty-five-hour weekly schedule. However, this reassignment also would have increased claimant's commuting time.

Claimant declined the new assignment in Tinton Falls. Instead, she decided to quit her job with EC and enroll in a school of surgical technology. She conveyed her decision to quit at a meeting with another EC supervisor, Jessica Short. According to claimant's testimony at the Appeal Tribunal hearing, "I told them that I wasn't getting my hours. So I was going to school [instead]." This was corroborated by Howard, who testified that "[claimant] just said [that] 'you know I think it's time for me to go back to school.'" Howard also insisted that claimant "could have continued reporting to the group home to work with Lisa," and that she also "could have continued with us working with another client but it would have required her to travel more."

Claimant stopped working for EC on November 17, 2006, and pursued her educational opportunity. She applied for unemployment benefits, which she initially received through January 27, 2007, until the agency determined that she was not eligible.

Based upon the testimony from the hearing, the appeals examiner concluded that claimant was not qualified for benefits because she had "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work." N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). In particular, the examiner noted claimant's rejection of her employer's offer of additional work hours and her decision to resume her education. The Board affirmed the examiner's findings. Claimant now appeals.

Having reviewed the record in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied that the Board's determination was legally sound and consistent with the proofs from the hearing. An employee who leaves her job for personal reasons, no matter how sensible those reasons may be, does not satisfy the work-related "good cause" requirements of N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). See, e.g., Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 218 (1997); Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 457 (1982). Claimant's decision to go back to school, which may well have been a worthwhile endeavor, is such a disqualifying personal reason.

Additionally, claimant's dissatisfaction with her work hours before her voluntary resignation cannot justify her receipt of benefits under the strictures of the statute. Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 53 (App. Div. 1964). Her employer offered to find her an assignment with more hours, albeit at a greater commuting distance. Instead, claimant traded her "partial employment for none at all," an unforced election that disqualifies her from unemployment compensation. Ibid.

Given our limited scope of review of administrative determinations of this nature, and the Board's recognized expertise in applying the unemployment statutes that warrants our deference, we affirm its well-supported final decision. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210; ...

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