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Emelia Jackson v. Board of Review and Joana Okafor

February 15, 2011


On appeal from a final decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 194,556.

Per curiam.


Submitted January 3, 2011 -- Decided

Before Judges Rodriguez and Miniman.

Appellant Emelia Jackson, challenges the final decision of the Board of Review (Board) upholding the denial of her claim for unemployment compensation benefits. We affirm.

From February 2006, until June 20, 2008, Jackson was employed by Joanna Okafor, M.D., as a clerical staff person. According to Jackson, on June 20, 2008, Okafor discharged her after she was absent from work for a week due to illness. Jackson perceived that Okafor's attitude towards her changed upon her return to work. Jackson filed for unemployment benefits. A Deputy Claims Examiner found Jackson disqualified for benefits from June 22, 2008 on the ground that she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work.

Jackson appealed to the Appeal Tribunal. Okafor did not testify before the Appeal Tribunal. After the first hearing on June 22, 2008, the Appeal Tribunal found Jackson eligible for benefits. Okafor filed a timely appeal to the Board. The Board found that Okafor had good cause for failing to appear at the hearing held before the Appeal Tribunal on September 4, 2008 and remanded the matter for a new hearing and new decision on all issues.

At the second Appeal Tribunal hearing on April 23, 2009 Jackson and Okafor testified. Their versions of the events differed sharply. They both agreed, however, that one of Jackson's job duties was to pre-certify patient procedures with medical insurance companies to ensure the payment of benefits for procedures.

Jackson testified that, after she returned from sick leave, Okafor stated that she would personally take care of the pre-certification for patients. On June 20, 2008, Okafor asked Jackson for the status of certifications for several patients. Jackson replied that she did not do the pre-certifications because Okafor had advised her that she would handle them herself. Okafor terminated Jackson's employment and told her to return her office key. Jackson had no intention of quitting her job prior to this incident.

Okafor testified that she never advised Jackson to stop pre-certifying patients for procedures. On June 19, 2008, Okafor called in a pre-certification for a patient, who had been scheduled for surgery but had not yet been pre-certified. Because the pre-certification had not been completed, Okafor handled the pre-certification procedure herself on this one occasion. On June 20, 2000, Okafor discovered that pre-certifications for two other patients had not been completed. Okafor questioned Jackson about her failure to complete the pre-certifications. She commented that Jackson must not want her job. Jackson became upset and replied that she did not want her job. She then left the premises. Okafor was unaware that Jackson left her job and only learned later that day.

The Appeal Tribunal found that Jackson's failure to complete the patient pre-certifications showed a substantial disregard of her employer's interests; and her failure to perform the duties of her job were the cause of her discharge. Therefore, the Appeal Tribunal found Jackson disqualified for benefits from June 15, 2008 through July 26, 2008, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(b), misconduct connected with the work. The Board upheld the Appeal Tribunal's decision. This appeal follows.

On appeal, Jackson contends that she "was asked by her employer to leave her employment due to benefits issues and was following all the instructions of her employer at the time of termination and thus she should not have been disqualified from benefits." This is essentially a challenge to the facts found by the Appeal Tribunal, which rejected Jackson's testimony and credited Okafor's testimony that Jackson was not asked to leave her employment. Our scope of review is a narrow one. Brady v. Board of Review, 152 N.J. 197 (1997). We will not reverse an agency decision unless it is "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable" or it is "not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Barry v. Arrow Pontiac, Inc., 100 N.J. 57, 71 (1985). We are obligated to accord deference to administrative agency fact-finding. Doering v. Board of Review, 203 N.J. Super. 241, 245 (App. Div. 1985). We may not reject an agency's determination because we disagree with it, or because the record may support more than one result. See Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). Thus, if there is sufficient credible, competent evidence in the record to support the agency's conclusions, we must uphold the agency's findings. See Clowes v. Terminex Intern, Inc., 109N.J. 575, 585 (1988).

Here, judged against that standard and after a careful review of the record, we conclude that Jackson has not demonstrated that the Board's decision is: arbitrary or capricious; unsupported in the proofs; or in violation of express or implicit legislative policies. See New Jersey Guild of ...

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