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Cruz v. Board of Review


November 10, 2010


On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 236,665.

Per curiam.


Submitted October 12, 2010

Before Judges Carchman and Waugh.

Petitioner Emmanuel Cruz appeals from the final agency action of the Department of Labor, Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance (Division) denying his application for unemployment insurance benefits. We affirm.

Cruz was employed by respondent Z Business Prototypes Corporation (Z Business) as a sales manager until his resignation on May 9, 2009. The resignation took place after the owner of Z Business informed Cruz and two other managers that their paychecks would be docked $80 each to cover a cash shortfall of $240 from the cash register. Cruz angrily punched a hole in the wall and was sent home by the owner. He decided to quit his job and never returned to the workplace. Despite the threat, the owner never docked the pay of any of the sales managers.

Cruz filed a claim for unemployment benefits, to be effective May 31, 2009. The Division's Deputy Director determined that Cruz was entitled to benefits without any disqualification, finding that his reason for leaving "constitute[d] good cause attributable to work." Z Business appealed that decision. The Appeal Tribunal held a hearing on August 7, 2009. Cruz testified to his reasons for leaving. One of the other sales managers testified that the owner never actually docked his pay or that of the others. The Appeal Tribunal affirmed the Deputy Director's decision.

Z Business appealed to the Board of Review (Board). On December 14, 2009, the Board reversed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal and held that Cruz did not leave work "with good cause attributable to the work."

The claimant acted hastily when he left before knowing if his pay would be docked. Substantial evidence at the hearing revealed the pay was not docked and the claimant has not shown good cause for leaving work.

Because Cruz had received benefits based on the contrary decisions of the Deputy Director and the Appeal Tribunal, the Board did not require him to return any benefits received prior to August 1, 2009, which was the Saturday before the date of the Appeal Tribunal hearing. This appeal followed.

"The judicial capacity to review administrative agency decisions is limited." Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). Generally speaking, we will "intervene only in those rare circumstances in which an agency action is clearly inconsistent with its statutory mission or with other State policy." George Harms Constr. Co. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994). Only if the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable should it be disturbed. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210.

The purpose of New Jersey's Unemployment Compensation Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -71, "is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own . . . ." Yardville Supply Co. v. Bd. of Review, 114 N.J. 371, 375 (1989) (quotation omitted). Although the Act is remedial in nature, it is the claimant who bears the burden of proving entitlement to benefits. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 218. And, "[t]he basic policy of the [Act] is advanced as well when benefits are denied in improper cases as when they are allowed in proper cases." Yardville, supra, 114 N.J. at 374.

N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a)*fn1 provides:

An individual shall be disqualified for benefits:

(a) For 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 and works four weeks in employment . . . and has earned in employment at least six times the individual's weekly benefit rate, as determined in each case.

The issue presented on this appeal is whether the Board's determination that Cruz left work without good cause attributable to his work was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.

Although an unjustified deduction from an employee's wages might well be good cause for leaving the employer, it is undisputed that no deduction was made in this case, despite the employer's threat to do so. We have held that an employee's fear of being discharged, where the employer has not indicated that such a discharge is imminent, does not furnish the employee with cause to resign and collect benefits under the Act. Spatola v. Bd. of Review, 72 N.J. Super. 483, 485 (App. Div. 1962). That principle aptly recognizes that the conditions that lead to an employee's gloomy perceptions of job insecurity can improve, so that "his [or her] fears of being discharged might never have materialized." Ibid.

Here, Cruz reacted in anger to the owner's statement that he would deduct $80 from his next pay check, and decided to resign before learning whether the deduction would actually be made. In fact, the employer never made the deduction. Applying the reasoning of Spatola to the facts of this case, we cannot conclude that the Board's decision that Cruz's resignation was premature constitutes arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable action warranting reversal.


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