January 18, 2011
LLOYD SHERMAN, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND AERO MANUFACTURING CO., INC., RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 224,056.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 4, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Baxter and Koblitz.
Lloyd Sherman appeals from an October 15, 2009 final agency decision of the Board of Review (Board), which found that Sherman was disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employment. We affirm.
After forty-five years of employment with Aero Manufacturing, Inc. (Aero), Sherman resigned his position as a shipping manager to accept a position with another company, Barham-Goodkin (Barham). Sherman's resignation from Aero was effective December 31, 2008, and he was scheduled to begin his new job at Barham during the third week of January 2009; however, before Sherman reported for duty, Barham notified him it was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy and was therefore withdrawing its offer of employment. Sherman thereafter filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits.
On March 16, 2009, a deputy claims examiner rejected Sherman's application, finding him disqualified for benefits because he left his employment at Aero voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employment. After filing an appeal of the adverse decision, Sherman participated in a telephonic hearing before the Appeal Tribunal, which on July 2, 2009, affirmed the deputy's determination that Sherman was ineligible for benefits because he left his work at Aero voluntarily for personal reasons unrelated to his employment. In particular, the Appeals Examiner concluded that Sherman "left work because he accepted employment with another employer. This was a personal reason and was not attributable to the work. Therefore, [Sherman] is disqualified for benefits as of 12/28/08, under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), as he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." On October 15, 2009, the Board affirmed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal.
On appeal, Sherman contends the Board's decision was erroneous, because he "did not voluntarily join the ranks of the unemployed." To the contrary, he "had been a diligent hardworking man, employed by the same employer continuously for forty-five years [who] had contributed extensively to . . . Aero, and had a good working relationship with the original owner over the years." When his original boss retired, and the boss's son took over the running of the company, "all of that changed dramatically" because Sherman was "unable to work well" with his new boss. According to Sherman, no matter what he did, "it was never acceptable to the son" and "[t]he environment, in which [he] had flourished since 1963, became virtually unbearable." Thus, when offered the opportunity to accept employment at Barham, "he took it" because Barham offered him "a way out of the situation." Then, through no fault of his own, Barham filed for bankruptcy, leaving Sherman unemployed. He maintains the unemployment compensation law was never intended to allow a hard-working individual such as himself to "fall through the cracks."
We review Sherman's contentions in accordance with our standard of review. The Board's determination that Sherman was disqualified from receiving benefits must be affirmed unless it is "arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable" or is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). In determining whether an agency's decision is supported by substantial credible evidence, we are obliged to accord deference to the agency's factfinding. Associated Util. Servs., Inc. v. Bd. of Review, 131 N.J. Super. 584, 588 (App. Div. 1974).
An appellate court "may not vacate an agency's determination merely because of doubts as to its wisdom or because the record may support more than one result." In re Petition of County of Essex, 299 N.J. Super. 577, 591-92 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 151 N.J. 463 (1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1111, 118 S. Ct. 1043, 140 L. Ed. 2d 108 (1998). "'In reviewing the factual findings made in an unemployment compensation proceeding, the test is not whether an appellate court would come to the same conclusion if the original determination was its to make, but rather whether the factfinder could reasonably so conclude upon the proofs.'" Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210 (quoting Charatan v. Bd. of Review, 200 N.J. Super. 74, 79 (App. Div. 1985)). Therefore, if the record contains sufficient credible, competent evidence to support the agency's conclusions, then we must uphold them. Clowes v. Terminix Int'l, Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 588 (1988).
At the time Sherman's claim was denied,*fn1 a section of the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Law, N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), provided that a claimant is disqualified for 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 and works for four weeks in employment . . . and has earned in employment at least six times the individual's weekly benefit rate . . . . [N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) (emphasis added).]
While the statute does not define "good cause," the statute has been construed to require more than mere dissatisfaction with working conditions:
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. [Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 288 (App. Div. 1983) (internal quotations and citations omitted).]
"Good cause" is defined by regulation as "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). Thus, an employee who quits a job without a sufficient work-related reason is disqualified for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).
Moreover, a claimant who leaves work for a good, but personal reason, is subject to disqualification pursuant to that same statute. Roche v. Bd. of Review, 156 N.J. Super. 63, 65 (App. Div. 1978) (concluding that a claimant who left her job to find a different place to live because her roommate was "driving [her] crazy" was ineligible for benefits); DeSantis v. Bd. of Review, 149 N.J. Super. 35, 38 (App. Div. 1977) (holding that an employee who left her job "because of her disappointment in not receiving a hoped-for raise" did not constitute "good cause within the statutory intendment"); Stauhs v. Bd. of Review, 93 N.J. Super. 451, 457 (App. Div. 1967) (holding that leaving work to accept a substantially more favorable position is a personal reason that disqualifies the claimant from receiving unemployment compensation benefits).
The opinion most similar to the present appeal is Rider College v. Bd. of Review, 167 N.J. Super. 42, 45 (App. 1979), in which we considered the situation of a claimant who resigned his management position at Rider College (Rider) to accept a new position in Wisconsin, which increased his salary by nearly twenty percent. Finding the housing market in Wisconsin far more expensive than he had anticipated, the claimant changed his mind and returned to New Jersey, but did not reapply for his prior position at Rider even though he knew it had not been filled. Ibid. We held that the advantages of the new position offered in Wisconsin "may have constituted sufficient reason to motivate [the] claimant to voluntarily quit Rider College, journey to Wisconsin and within four days return to New Jersey[,] [but] those reasons are personal and in no way related to [the] claimant's employment [with] Rider College." Id. at 48. Because the claimant's reasons for leaving his work were personal, we held those reasons did not constitute "good cause attributable to [his employment]," and we deemed him ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits. Ibid. Like the claimant in Rider, Sherman left his position at Aero for a better job elsewhere.
Sherman urges us to reject the Board's conclusion and to instead hold that the working conditions at Aero had become so intolerable as to leave him with no choice but to quit and find work elsewhere. The record does not support such a contention.
At the hearing before the Appeal Tribunal, Sherman never asserted that the working conditions at Aero were intolerable or that such conditions had caused his health to decline. Instead, when asked by the Appeals Examiner why he left his employment at Aero, Sherman simply stated:
My boss is the son of my original boss and . . . we didn't see eye to eye and because of the age difference and all[,] an opportunity had come along and I felt that it would be best for everybody (inaudible-voice cut out).*fn2 Unfortunately, my wife had passed away two years before and I would never think of leaving the job while she was still alive. This other opportunity gave me an opportunity to do a little bit of traveling and doing property management . . . . I just felt he [the new boss] was going in a different direction than what I was used to and . . . I just felt that it was best that . . . I moved on. Again, I said this was given to me as an opportunity and I felt this would be best.
At that point, the Appeals Examiner asked, "so the reason then you left the job was to accept other employment. Is that correct?" Sherman answered, "That is correct."
Thus, the record does not support Sherman's claims that the working conditions were so intolerable as to leave him no choice other than to resign. To the contrary, the record reveals that nothing other than a mild personality conflict with his new boss, and his desire to accept new challenges, were the only reasons Sherman left his employment at Aero. There was no evidence that the work environment was so abnormal or unusual that it forced Sherman to quit, as was the case in Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 288-90.
The record supports the Board's conclusion that Sherman left his employment at Aero for personal reasons unrelated to the work itself and he is therefore disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits.