December 30, 2008
RITZA Y. MARTINEZ, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW AND CMC STEEL FABRICATORS, INC., RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 160,866.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 9, 2008
Before Judges Parker and Yannotti.
Claimant Ritza Y. Martinez appeals from a final decision by the Board of Review (Board) affirming an Appeal Tribunal decision that found claimant left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work, thereby disqualifying her for unemployment benefits. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).
Claimant was employed by CMC Steel Fabricators as an accounting clerk. Although she was a full-time employee, she was working reduced hours from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. because of a medical condition. She apparently had a problem with her supervisor, "Jill," regarding the reduced hours, and asked the human resources office to clarify her working hours. She claimed that Jill got upset because claimant went over her head and that in retaliation Jill ignored her and kept her out of training sessions.
Although she claimed that Jill was ignoring her, claimant gave a lengthy description of the supervisor's criticism of her work. Claimant testified that when she became ill and called in sick, she spoke to James Francisco, Director of Human Resources, and told him that she "can't come in any more." She told Francisco: "I haven't had an attack, I feel great. I needed to get away from there." She claimed that Jill "pretty much gave me a bad attitude" because she asked claimant to work overtime. Claimant acknowledged that she did not work the requested overtime and was not "written up" for it but, nevertheless, felt that Jill was "belittling me; she was treating me like I didn't know anything."
Under questioning by the Appeal Tribunal examiner, claimant acknowledged that Jill had been her supervisor since 2004 but that claimant never complained before she quit, nor did she request transfer to another department. Claimant testified that she spoke to a number of managers in the company after its ownership changed in April 2007, claiming that Jill treated her unfairly. She acknowledged that she never filed a grievance nor made any written complaint about Jill, however. She further testified that she had intended to return to work after quitting in July 2007 because "[t]here was going to be [a] meeting or something." Francisco told her not to come in, however, and that she could mail in a letter of resignation if she wished to do so.
Under cross-examination by her employer, claimant stated, "I just think that the way Jill was treating me was a way of getting me to quit." She acknowledged that Jill never told her she would be fired if she couldn't work forty hours a week but claimed that Jill said that "things were going to change." She also acknowledged that no one told her that her reduced hours were unacceptable.
Francisco testified for the employer that continuing work was available for claimant until the time she quit. He also testified that claimant did not complain about Jill prior to the day she told him she was quitting. He indicated that there was no problem with claimant's reduced hour schedule and that she was considered a full-time employee for benefit purposes. He indicated that the company has a grievance procedure and claimant could have filed a grievance against Jill if she felt she was being harassed. Claimant did not do so, however, nor did she ask to be transferred to another department.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Appeal Tribunal found that claimant left her employment voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work and was, therefore, not eligible for unemployment benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).
In this appeal, claimant argues that she left work because of harassment "which formed a hostile work environment and claimant bore physical and emotional harm through states of depression and random anxiety attacks which was apparent by the experience of frequent headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and was a danger to her disability."
Unfortunately, claimant did not raise any of these issues prior to quitting and did not allow the employer to attempt to resolve them. She quit rather abruptly, simply stating that her supervisor was the reason she was leaving. Moreover, claimant provided no medical evidence at the Appeal Tribunal hearing.
Our scope of review of administrative decisions is narrowly circumscribed. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). Our role is to determine "'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." Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965) (quoting State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964)). We "may not 'engage in an independent assessment of the evidence . . . . '" In re Taylor, supra, 158 N.J. at 656 (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999)). While we will accord a strong presumption of reasonableness, Smith v. Ricci, 89 N.J. 514, 525 (1982), we will not, however, simply rubber stamp the agency's decision. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). An administrative decision will be reversed only when it is found to be "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Ibid.
Here, there is substantial, credible evidence to support the Board's findings of fact and conclusions of law made by the Appeal Tribunal and affirmed by the Board.
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