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Chen v. Board of Review

September 16, 2010


On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 222,748.

Per curiam.


Submitted July 20, 2010

Before Judges Gilroy and Sapp-Peterson.

Jintai Chen appeals from the August 18, 2009, decision by the Board of Review (Board) finding that he was disqualified for unemployment benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.

Chen worked as a chemist at Tyger Scientific, Inc., which makes custom organic chemicals, typically for the pharmaceutical industry. On February 3, 2009, one of Chen's colleagues, Juang Li, complained to Michael Smith, Tyger's President and Chief Operating Officer, that Chen had been taking pictures of him in the workplace without his consent and that he felt harassed by Chen's actions. Smith directed Chen to stop taking pictures of Li, to which Chen responded that he had the right to take pictures of Li and any other employee. Although Smith repeatedly explained to Chen that he was not permitted to take pictures of employees in the workplace, Chen continued to insist that he had the right to do so. The colloquy between the two men escalated to the point that Chen became louder and began to make physical gestures toward Smith with his fists and arms raised in the air. Finally, Smith directed Chen to either agree to cease taking the pictures or go home. Chen chose to leave work and exited the premises in such a belligerent manner that police were summoned to escort Chen from the workplace.

Chen filed a claim for unemployment benefits which was denied. Chen appealed this determination and a hearing was conducted before the Appeal Tribunal (Tribunal) at which Chen, an interpreter and the employer's representative participated. Following the hearing, the Tribunal issued a written decision finding Chen's contention that his employer summarily dismissed him for taking pictures of another employee, rather than merely asking him to cease taking pictures of employees as the employer claimed, was not credible. The Tribunal further concluded that he left work voluntarily without good cause, thus making him indefinitely disqualified for benefits from February 1, 2009.

Chen appealed to the Board, which adopted the findings of the Tribunal and affirmed its decision. The present appeal followed. Chen contends the Board's decision should be reversed because the Tribunal failed to "provide a reasonable explanation for its conclusion" and failed to "consider all evidence gathered at the hearing." In addition, Chen claims the Board's decision should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings based upon new evidence that demonstrates the Tribunal's decision "was not based on credible evidence."

We have considered Chen's arguments in light of the record and applicable legal principles and conclude they are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. Rule 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We add the following brief comments.

A claimant seeking unemployment compensation benefits bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award of benefits.

Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 51 (App. Div. 1964). "[A] claimant shall be disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits '[f]or 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....'" Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 213 (1997) (quoting N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a)) (alteration in original). In applying N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), a court must distinguish between a voluntary quit with good cause attributable to the work and, on the other hand, a voluntary quit without good cause attributable to the work. Id. at 213-14. "Good cause" is "a reason related directly to the individual's employment, which was so compelling as to give the individual no choice but to leave the employment." N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b); see also Zielenski, supra, 85 N.J. Super. at 52 (explaining good cause is "cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed."). In Domenico v. Bd. of Review, we set forth the factors to be considered in determining the existence of good cause in a given matter:

In scrutinizing an employee's reason for leaving, the test is one of ordinary common sense and prudence. Mere 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. The decision to leave employment must be compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances not imaginary, trifling and whimsical ones.... [I]t is the employee's responsibility to do what is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed. [192 N.J. Super. 284, 288 (App. Div. 1983) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).]

Our role in reviewing the decision of an administrative agency is limited. We will not upset the determination of an administrative agency absent a showing it was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, that it lacked fair support in the evidence, or that it violated legislative policies. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999); Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210-11; In re Musick, 143 N.J. 206, 216 (1996); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963). Further, decisions by administrative agencies carry with them a strong presumption of reasonableness. City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council in Dep't Envtl. Prot., 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S.Ct. 400, 66 L.Ed. 2d 245 (1980).

In the present case, the record fully supports the Board's decision. The Tribunal found Chen's testimony lacking in credibility and found credible the testimony of the employer's representative that Chen was offered the choice to remain at work provided he stopped taking pictures of employees, but if not, he would have to go home. The Tribunal's credibility determination is entitled to our deference because we are not in a position to evaluate the witnesses' credibility and determine whose testimony is worthy of belief. We are therefore obliged to "give due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge their credibility." Logan v. Bd. of Review, 299 N.J. Super. 346, 348 (App. Div. 1997). "We read the record, not to balance the persuasiveness of the evidence on one side as against the other, but in order to determine whether a reasonable mind might accept the evidence as adequate to ...

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