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Grever v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


May 14, 2009

JOAN E. GREVER, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, AND DR. ROGER G. POLLOCK, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 153,609.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 20, 2009

Before Judges Carchman and R. B. Coleman.

Claimant, Joan Grever, appeals a Final Administrative Decision of the Board of Review dated February 14, 2008, reversing the approval of her claim for unemployment benefits. The Board affirmed and substantially adopted the findings of the Appeal Tribunal in its decision, dated October 25, 2007. That decision of the Appeal Tribunal was based upon a telephonic hearing conducted on October 1, 2007, following the employer's appeal of the initial determination by the Deputy holding Grever was eligible for benefits, without disqualification, from April 29, 2007. The Appeal Tribunal found that the claimant left her employment voluntarily without good cause attributable to her employment, and was therefore disqualified for benefits in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). We affirm.

Joan Grever was employed by Dr. Roger G. Pollock as a medical office manager from October 2, 2001 through May 2, 2007. In mid-March 2007, Grever was involved in a disagreement with one of Pollock's patients over a billing issue. Pollock became very upset with Grever over this incident, and he banged his hand on her office door and said: "God damn it Joan, I told you to take care of this? This is your responsibility." On March 22, 2007, Grever was involved in yet another dispute with a patient over a billing issue. On April 17, 2007, Grever was reprimanded for failing to obtain pre-operative clearance for a patient's upcoming surgery. Following this last reprimand, Grever informed Pollock that she was resigning from her position, which ultimately became effective on May 2, 2007.

Thereafter, Grever filed for unemployment benefits. At a weekly rate of $530, Grever received benefits from the weeks ending May 5, 2007 through October 27, 2007, totaling $13,936. To justify her application for benefits, Grever claimed her work environment had become so hostile as to provide good cause for her resignation. To support this proposition, Grever contends her employer's use of the words "damn it" and banging on her office door amounted to verbal and physical abuse.

Pollock filed a Notice of Appeal challenging Grever's receipt of benefits. Thereafter, on December 19, 2007, the Appeal Tribunal reversed the Deputy's determination and, instead, determined that Grever was disqualified from receiving benefits as she voluntarily left her position without good cause attributable to work required by N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). The Tribunal further remanded the matter to the Director for an initial determination whether Grever was obligated to refund the amount she received in benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d).

The Board of Review affirmed the Tribunal's decision and adopted its findings of fact with the following supplementation:

[T]he claimant had been previously reprimanded by the employer in March 2007, after the claimant failed to obtain a re-approval for an ambulatory certification which would have covered a 23 hour stay in the hospital. The patient received a hospital bill for an overnight stay. The employer admitted that he was angry and did bang the claimant's door as a result of this. The claimant testified that was the first time the employer behaved in this manner.

[T]he employer did not have a pattern of yelling at the claimant. The claimant herself admitted the employer's behavior regarding the earlier incident was the first time it had occurred. We are satisfied that the claimant has not shown that the work environment was so adverse as to provide good cause for leaving the employment.

Our review of a final decision of an administrative agency is limited. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). The scope of review of an administrative decision "is the same as that [for] an appeal in any non-jury case, i.e. '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)). The appellate court may not "engage in an independent assessment of the evidence as if it were the court of first instance." Taylor, supra, 158 N.J. at 656 (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999)). "The choice of accepting or rejecting testimony of witnesses rests with the administrative agency, and where such choice is reasonably made it is conclusive on appeal." In re Application of Howard Savs. Bank, 143 N.J. Super. 1, 9 (App. Div. 1976).

It is also well-settled that generally a claimant has the burden of "establishing entitlement to unemployment compensation." Bonilla v. Bd. of Review, Dep't of Labor, 337 N.J. Super. 612, 615 (App. Div. 2001). New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Law requires an employee who voluntarily ends his or her employment to show he or she did so for good cause. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Our courts have interpreted statutory "good cause" as requiring "'cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed.'" Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983) (quoting Condo v. Review Bd., 158 N.J. Super. 172, 174 (App. Div. 1978)). This determination is made in consideration of "ordinary common sense and prudence." Id. at 288. Mere dissatisfaction with one's employment, absent a showing of egregious conditions or health concerns, will not support grounds for good cause. Ibid.

Here, Grever has admitted that she was verbally reprimanded for specific incidents, i.e., disputes with patients and failings in her duties as office manager. She also testified that the specific incident where her employer used profanity was the only time he had reprimanded her in that manner. The legislature never intended for such common, albeit harsh, language to fall under the scope of hostile work environment. We also note, when Grever threatened to quit, her employer accepted her resignation without hesitation -- indicating there existed a mutual dissatisfaction with the employment arrangement.

A reasonable review of the facts does not support the claimant's assertion that the employer's behavior amounted to a "pattern" of verbal and physical abuse. After a careful review of the record, we are satisfied that the Board's determination is amply supported by the record. Given our limited scope of review of administrative determinations, and our deference to the Board's recognized expertise in unemployment statutes, we see no reason to disturb the Board's final decision.

Affirmed.

20090514

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