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Elizabeth Line v. Board of Review


March 24, 2011


On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 226,201.

Per curiam.


Argued February 7, 2011

Before Judges Lisa and Alvarez.

Claimant Elizabeth Line appeals an August 31, 2009 decision of the Department of Labor's Board of Review finding her disqualified for unemployment benefits. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Line was employed full-time at respondent Matheny School and Hospital, Inc., earning $20 per hour as a creative facilitator. Three weeks before leaving her employment there, her hours were reduced from 37.5 to 30 per week. Her employer explained that the position would no longer be full-time, but that she should be patient and wait for future changes. She was not told the length of time the reduction to 30 hours would be in effect. On June 7, 2008, Line left the position to seek full-time work.

Line filed a claim for unemployment on June 8, 2008, and, on July 10, 2008, was determined by the deputy claims examiner to be disqualified from benefits because she left the job voluntarily. Her appeal of that July 10, 2008 decision was not filed until April 9, 2009, nor heard until May 28, 2009, because Line allegedly did not receive notice of the denial of benefits until she inquired about the status of her claim at an unemployment office.

On June 1, 2009, the Appeal Tribunal found that, because Line left her job in the face of only a temporary change and because she was earning more than eighty percent of her pay, she had refused, "without good cause, to accept . . . suitable work. " N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(c). Her decision to leave was not found to be voluntary and "without good cause attributable to such work," N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(c). The decision stated she was only disqualified from June 8, 2008, through July 5, 2008.

Throughout this process, Line continued to be unemployed and collected benefits from July 5, 2008 forward totaling $28,969. On June 9, 2009, Line appealed the Appeal Tribunal's decision to the Board of Review.

The Board modified the Appeal Tribunal's decision, finding Line disqualified entirely from June 8, 2008 forward. Applying Zielenski v. Board of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 53 (App. Div. 1964), and N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), the Board concluded Line simply did not have good cause for leaving work and was therefore disqualified from benefits.

Before this court, Line argues her separation from employment was indeed for good cause and claims she should not be liable to reimburse past benefits received as the Appeal Tribunal correctly classified her status. Line did not actually appeal the issue of reimbursement, therefore we will not address it in this opinion.

The scope of our review of administrative agency action is limited and highly deferential. It is restricted to the following inquiries:

(1) whether the agency's decision offends the State or Federal Constitution; (2) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies; (3) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and (4) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors. [Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210-11 (1997) (quoting George Harms Constr. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994)).]

So long as the Board's decision is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record and was neither "arbitrary, capricious, [nor] unreasonable," it will be affirmed. Id. at 210.

N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) provides that an individual who leaves work "voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work," will be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. Zielenski, supra, is the seminal case interpreting the relevant statute in scenarios such as the one presented by Line. In that case, a shipyard worker who was employed "unsteadi[ly] for only one or two days per week filed a claim for benefits and was denied. 85 N.J. at 52. The court affirmed the Board of Review's denial of benefits because a partially employed worker has the option to look for work while not at his job. Id. at 53. By continuing to collect his wages, he reduces the amount required of the unemployment fund, properly balancing both the "welfare of the employee and a conservation of the public interest." Ibid.

This is precisely the situation in which Line found herself. Other than the reduction in her hours of employment, Line provided no reason for leaving work.

Line bears the burden of proving that she left her job for good cause attributable to the work. Morgan v. Bd. of Review, 77 N.J. Super. 209, 213 (App. Div. 1962). Good cause has been construed to mean cause that justifies an employee's voluntary departure from the ranks of the employed to join the ranks of the unemployed. Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983). The reduction in work hours that occurred here was not sufficient as Line was told to be patient, implying future changes would be beneficial to her, and, for whatever reason, she did not obtain any further indication from her employer of her future status.

Line has failed to bear the burden of proof that her departure was for good cause. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) and Zielenski, supra, the Board of Review decision is therefore affirmed.

Line also attempts to claim that her June 9, 2009 letter to the Board stating she "would like to appeal the decision of the [A]ppeal [T]ribunal" was simply a request for clarification of that body's decision. This assertion is completely lacking in merit and does not warrant further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(e).

Because Line's only reason for leaving her job was the reduction from 37.5 to 30 hours per week, the Board's determination is supported by sufficient credible evidence and was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.



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