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Felicia M. Webb v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


June 10, 2011

FELICIA M. WEBB, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND RPI INDUSTRIES, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 234,481.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 2, 2011

Before Judges Cuff and Fisher.

In this appeal, we consider whether the Board of Review properly denied appellant Felicia M. Webb's application for unemployment benefits.

An individual is not entitled to unemployment benefits as a result of terminating employment "voluntarily without good cause attributable to" the work. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5a. In applying this statute, the agency is ordinarily asked to determine whether the employee's resignation was attributable to the work. In this case, however, appellant chiefly argued that she did not resign but that she was terminated. The appeal tribunal rejected this contention and the Board of Review agreed in rendering its final decision disqualifying appellant from receiving unemployment benefits. In her pro se brief, appellant continues to press the contention that she did not voluntarily leave her employment.*fn1

The agency made findings of fact to which we are required to defer. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210-11 (1997). The appeal tribunal found that appellant was a customer service representative with certain duties, which were expanded beyond what appellant felt was appropriate. Appellant claimed the stress from performing what was, in her view, three different positions affected her health and required medical attention. She had previously sought a reduction in her duties, but after receiving no satisfaction, the following occurred:

The claimant approached her superior with concerns in regard[] to her job duties. The claimant had previously expressed her concerns and wanted to know if her concerns were addressed. The superior questioned if the claimant had problems with the job duties. The claimant requested a response to her concerns.

The superior responded[,] "let's say everything remains the same and there's no[] response today[,] what will happen?" The claimant responded[,] "th[e]n I will give my notice." The superior replied[,] "no need to give notice, you can leave tomorrow." The claimant in return questioned[,] "why wait t[ill] tomorrow, can I get my things now?" The superior agreed and escorted the claimant to her work station, where the claimant's supervisor was advise[d] of the claimant's leaving. The claimant gather[ed] her belongings and was escorted out of the building.

The appeal tribunal determined that these circumstances demonstrated that appellant voluntarily quit, and the Board of Review agreed.

We defer to the findings as to what occurred when the employment relationship ended. Our review of the legal conclusion drawn from these facts, however, is not deferential. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Manalapan Twp. Comm., 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995). Instead, we will intervene if the agency's ultimate determination was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210. A mistaken conclusion of law on a material question constitutes a legitimate ground for intervention.

As can be seen from the findings quoted above, the supervisor had not addressed appellant's concerns about the extent of her job duties; when pressed, the supervisor posed only a hypothetical question. When the supervisor heard the hypothetical answer that suited his needs, he responded with an affirmative declaration, taking the discussion out of the realm of the theoretical. That is, the supervisor asked appellant "what will happen" if nothing changes in her job duties, and appellant answered that, in that circumstance, she would give notice. With that, the supervisor transmuted the conversation from its hypothetical underpinnings, telling appellant she did not need to give notice and could leave the following day.

Although we must accept as true the agency's literal description of the facts, we cannot agree with its conclusion. The circumstances permit no interpretation other than that urged by appellant -- she was terminated. As a result, we conclude that appellant was entitled to unemployment benefits and consequently, we need not consider appellant's argument that, even if it could be determined she voluntary quit her position, it was for good cause attributable to the work.

Reversed.


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