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Susan P. Fata v. Board of Review and Metlife Group


June 29, 2011


On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 241,227. Susan P. Fata, appellant pro se.

Per curiam.


Submitted June 15, 2011

Before Judges A.A. Rodriguez and LeWinn.

Appellant was employed by MetLife Group as a manager from May 16, 2005 until July 3, 2007. Her termination of employment was based upon her June 27, 2007 email to her supervisor, Deirdre Curran, stating that she was "leaving [her] position assenior product consultant . . . ." She filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits on July 8, 2007. The Deputy determined that appellant was disqualified from receiving benefits because she had left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work; the Deputy also ordered appellant to refund the sum of $2680 that she received as benefits for the weeks ending July 14 through August 11, 2007.

Appellant appealed to the Appeal Tribunal on July 18, 2009. Following a hearing at which appellant and Curran testified, the Appeal Tribunal issued a decision on September 30, 2009, upholding the Deputy's decision. Appellant appealed to the Board of Review (Board). On April 12, 2010, the Board issued a decision affirming the Appeal Tribunal's disqualification determination, but remanding for further proceedings on appellant's obligation to refund the $2680 in unemployment benefits, which the hearing examiner had not addressed.

The Appeal Tribunal held a hearing on June 2, 2010, at which appellant testified. On that same date, the Tribunal issued a decision requiring appellant to repay the full amount of benefits received.

Appellant now appeals from the April 12, 2010 final decision of the Board; she did not appeal the June 2, 2010 refund decision by the Appeal Tribunal. We affirm.

At the September 30, 2009 hearing, appellant testified that she left employment at MetLife because she "was unhappy[,] . . . [and] the work was starting to affect [her] health. [She] work[ed] very long hours[,] . . . was very stress[ed] out . . . [and] felt [she] was treated differently th[a]n some of the other managers there." Appellant worked in the annuities department and felt she did not have sufficient support staff to meet the heavy workload. She complained to Curran, who told her that many employees were working long hours, that it was part of the job.

Appellant complained to Curran about disparate treatment, in that manager meetings were often scheduled when she was not present and, therefore, she was unable to attend. When she said she "needed help[,] the person that [she] was reporting to[,] the Director[,] . . . said, 'no, not really, you're not doing more work th[a]n anybody else, you really don't need help.'" She also stated that Curran had promised to promote her, but that promotion never came about.

Appellant testified that she "couldn't take it any more[,]" and that her concerns about the effect of work stress on her health were confirmed when, ten months after leaving employment, she "developed [c]ancer" which she thought "personally [was] due to the stress of working." She acknowledged that no doctor everrecommended that she leave employment for health reasons.

Curran testified that she had conversations with appellant and was aware of her formal complaints to human resources. Curran stated that those complaints were "investigated and the allegations were found to be unfounded." Curran arranged for appellant to report directly to her after that.

Curran further testified that other managers also worked long hours. She stated that she did not give appellant "a timeframe" for the promised promotion.

The Appeal Tribunal made the following fact findings in its decision:

The claimant worked . . . from 5/16/05 through 7/3/07, when the claimant voluntary[il]y left because she was unhappy working there. The claimant left because of long extended working hours, being treated different[ly] from other managers and the work was affecting her health.

The claimant and the employer had a discussion . . . regarding her receiving a promotion. The claimant waited six months. She asked again about her promotion. The vice president advised her, she is working on it. The employer never gave the claimant a time frame when she will receive a promotion.

The claimant made a complaint regarding the director[;] the vice president and human resources conducted an investigation. It was decided that claimant will report to the vice president [Curran] instead of the director.

The claimant worked long extended hours voluntarily, it was not mandatory. The claimant worked the long hours to complete her job task and do a good job. There were other employees as well as managers who also worked extended hours.

The claimant develop[ed] cancer ten months after leaving employment. The claimant believe[s] it came from the stress of her being employed there. The claimant was not under [a] doctor's care during the period she was employed by the company.

[T]here was no evidence presented to support the allegations that the claimant was treated different[ly] from other managers or that the work . . . aggravated the claimant's medical conditions.

Based on those findings, the Appeal Tribunal determined that appellant "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work and is disqualified for benefits as of 7/1/07, in accordance with [N.J.S.A.] 43:21-5(a)."

On appeal, the Board reviewed the record and concluded that the Appeal Tribunal's factual findings were "substantially correct." The Board agreed with the Tribunal's opinion "for the reasons set forth therein" and affirmed.

On appeal, appellant contends that "leaving her job . . . due to factors related to the work constitu[t]es good cause attributable to the work and, therefore, she should not have been disqualified for benefits." She contends that documents she submitted to the Appeal Tribunal support her claim. The Board claims that those documents were not "provided below to the Appeal Tribunal at the time of [appellant's] hearing." We note, however, that appellant's cover letter enclosing six documents and setting forth factual contentions, was sent to the Appeal Tribunal on or about October 7, 2009, and bears a stamp from the office.

We have reviewed appellant's documents and conclude they essentially duplicate her testimony before the Appeal Tribunal. Clearly, appellant was unhappy about several conditions of her employment. She did not, however, either testify to or document a claim that would refute the Board's conclusion.

Our standard of review is limited and highly deferential in these matters. "An administrative agency's final quasi-judicial decision will be sustained unless there is a clear showing that it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or that it lacks fair support in the record." In re Herrmann, 192 N.J. 19, 27-28 (2007). Our inquiry is limited to determining:

(1) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies, that is, did the agency follow the law;

(2) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and

(3) 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. [Mazza v. Bd. of Trs., 143 N.J. 22, 25 (1995) (citing Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963)).]

"When an agency's decision meets those criteria, then a court owes substantial deference to the agency's expertise and superior knowledge of a particular field. Deference controls even if the court would have reached a different result in the first instance." Herrmann, supra, 192 N.J. at 28 (citations omitted).

N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) disqualifies a claimant from unemployment benefits if he/she "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work . . . ." "While the statute does not define 'good cause,' our courts have construed the statute to mean cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed." Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983) (internal quotation omitted). "'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.'" Id. at 288 (quoting Medwick v. Review Bd., 69 N.J. Super. 338, 345 (App. Div. 1961)).

In her brief, appellant reiterates her litany of complaints about her working conditions. These complaints, however, do not rise above the level of "[m]ere dissatisfaction" which, as noted, "does not constitute good cause for leaving work voluntarily." Ibid.

Nor does appellant demonstrate that she left work for health or medical reasons. "An individual who leaves a job due to a physical and/or mental condition or state of health" must demonstrate that such condition "is aggravated by working conditions" in order to avoid being "disqualified for benefits for voluntarily leaving work without good cause 'attributable to such work[.]'" N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(b). Moreover, "[w]hen an individual leaves work for health or medical reasons, medical certification shall be required to support a finding of good cause attributable to work." N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(d). See Israel v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 283 N.J. Super. 1, 5 (App. Div. 1995) (to be entitled to unemployment benefits, an individual must show by "uncontroverted medical evidence" that the work environment aggravated his illness), certif. denied, 143 N.J. 326 (1996). Clearly, appellant has made no such showing.

In sum, we are satisfied that the Board properly affirmed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal, which was "'supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.'" Gloucester Cnty. Welfare Bd. v. N.J. Civ. Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 391 (1983) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)).



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