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Miao v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


January 28, 2009

JUDY MIAO, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND THE ARC OF SOMERSET COUNTY, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 169,575.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 15, 2008

Before Judges Carchman and R. B. Coleman.

Appellant Judy Miao, the former Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the ARC of Somerset County, appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development (the Board) declaring her ineligible for additional unemployment benefits while she participated in training under the Workforce Development Partnership Program. We affirm.

Except for some confusion as to a "coding" issue that we address infra, the facts are not in significant dispute. Appellant was employed by ARC from June 8, 2005 to July 25, 2007, when her employer informed her that she was being placed on administrative leave pending a final decision by the ARC board as to her future employment. On August 3, 2007, the president of the board requested her resignation. Appellant refused, and she was discharged. Appellant filed a timely application for unemployment benefits, which were paid together with a $4,000 Workforce Development Program Grant. Appellant used the grant to enroll in a six-month Project Management Certification Course.

While participating in this training, appellant applied for additional unemployment benefits. The Deputy to the Director, Division of Unemployment Insurance denied the benefits. The Appeal Tribunal reached the same conclusion, and on February 20, 2008, the Board affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's decision.

In its decision, the Appeal Tribunal said:

The claimant was last employed as the executive director for the above-named employer from 6-08-05 to 7-25-07 when the claimant was informed that she had the choice to be fired from her employment or she could resign. The claim choice to [sic] to take an involuntary resignation.

There was no other reduction in employment at the company in the claimant's job classification at the time the claimant was separated from the work.

[(Emphasis added).]

The Tribunal continued:

N.J.S.A. 43:21-60 provides in part that additional benefits shall be provided [to] any individual who:

a. ". . . has received a notice of permanent termination of employment by the individual's employer or has been laid off and is unlikely to return to his previous employment because work opportunities in the individual's job classification are impaired by a substantial reduction of employment at the worksite . . ."

N.J.A.C. 12:23-5.1 provides:

(a) "An individual will be eligible for additional unemployment benefits during training only if the individual:"

2. "Is permanently separate from employment and is unlikely to return to such employment due to a substantial reduction in work opportunities in the individual's job classification at his or her former worksite;"

From N.J.S.A. 43:21-60 and N.J.A.C. 12:23-5.1, it is concluded that for an individual to be eligible for additional benefits during training, there must be a "substantial reduction in work opportunities" at the individual's former worksite. This is substantially different from the requirements for eligibility for regular unemployment benefits. In this case, the claimant's separation was due to an isolated termination rather than a substantial reduction in work opportunities in the claimant's job classification. Therefore, the claimant is ineligible for additional unemployment benefits during training as provided by N.J.S.A. 43:21-60 and N.J.A.C. 12:23-5.1.

In 1992, the Legislature established the Workforce Development Program (WDP) in response to its findings that many individuals were permanently displaced from the workforce, that employers were experiencing serious difficulties in finding skilled workers and that the shortage of skilled labor would continue throughout the 1990s and beyond. N.J.S.A. 43:21-57. Under the WDP, eligible individuals may receive up to twenty-six weeks of additional benefits in an amount equal to their weekly benefit rates for regular unemployment benefits while they take part in approved retraining programs. N.J.S.A. 43:21-61. An individual is eligible for additional benefits only if she:

[h]as received a notice of a permanent termination of employment by the individual's employer or has been laid off and is unlikely to return to his previous employment because work opportunities in the individual's job classification are impaired by a substantial reduction of employment at the worksite.

[N.J.S.A. 43:21-60.a.]

See also N.J.A.C. 12:23-5.1(a)2; Bonilla v. Bd. of Review, Dep't of Labor, 337 N.J. Super. 612, 615-16 (App. Div. 2001) (noting that the purpose of the Act was to enable fired or laid off employees additional benefits where there is a showing that the employee is unlikely to return to employment because of a "substantial reduction of employment at the worksite"). Here, the record is devoid of any proof to establish that "work opportunities in the individual's job classification are impaired by a substantial reduction of employment at the worksite." In fact, there was no showing of a reduction of any other employees at the worksite.

Appellant claims that a miscoding by her employer, identifying her as being "terminated for cause," resulted in the denial of benefits. We reject that claim as the wording of both the statute as well as the regulation addresses issues well- beyond the issue of termination for cause. Appellant is ineligible for benefits not because of a "coding" issue but as a result of her failure to meet the statutory requirements for such relief.

Our review of a decision of the Board of Review is limited. "An administrative agency's final quasi-judicial decision will be sustained unless there is a clear showing that it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or that it lacks fair support in the record." In re Herrmann, 192 N.J. 19, 27-28 (2007) (citing Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963)).

As the Court noted in Herrmann, "[t]hree channels of inquiry inform the appellate review function." Id. at 28.

These are:

(1) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies, that is, did the agency follow the law; (2) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and (3) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors.

[Ibid. (quoting Mazza v. Bd. of Trs., 143 N.J. 22, 25 (1995) (citing Campbell, supra, 39 N.J. at 562)).]

"When an agency's decision meets [these] criteria, then a court owes substantial deference to the agency's expertise and superior knowledge of a particular field." Ibid. Here, the Board properly interpreted the statute and applicable rule. We find no basis for our intervention.

Affirmed.

20090128

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