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Chester Paolini v. Board of Review


July 6, 2011


On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 292,839.

Per curiam.


Submitted June 7, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo and Yannotti.

Claimant Chester Paolini appeals from the October 5, 2010 final decision of the Board of Review (Board) finding him disqualified for unemployment benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) for having left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.

Paolini commenced working for respondent Monarch Art Plastics Company (Monarch) in 1995 as a die cutter and was promoted to plant manager on October 29, 2008 at an annual salary of $53,600. According to Monarch's Chief Financial Officer, Ethan Messner, in February 2009, as part of a structural reorganization, Paolini was demoted to his previous position of die cutter at an hourly rate of pay of $23.65, resulting in a $3.00 per hour reduction in wages. According to Messner, Paolini was the "best" die cutter he had ever known and thus served the company best by returning to that position.

Paolini's new work hours, which were apparently changed to allow him to supervise newly hired die cutters, interfered with his ability to perform overtime work and thus make up his reduction in pay. According to Paolini, this circumstance was contrary to assurances given him by his manager, Michael Sytack, that he would be able to make up in overtime the reduction in wages resulting from his demotion.

Paolini first announced his resignation in a May 20, 2010 e-mail to Monarch owner Bill Shanley:

Hello Bill. I was hoping to catch up [with] you at work but things have been a little busy with the Mint. First of all, I'd like to thank you for our little talk last week.

The way you found out about me leaving Monarch was not the way I wanted to do this. I know there has been talk of me leaving for awhile now thru the shop, again after 18 years not the best ways to handle this. Monarch and you personally have been good to both Karen and myself. I do want to thank you for the opportunities afforded me at Monarch and I do believe I've given 100% to each. As I told you we will be moving to Florida where our daughter and family live. We have a matter that I hope you will understand. For the last few months Karen's health has not been the best. She beat cancer twice but now there's another issue. Her doctor will be putting her out on disability in the [next] couple of months. She is heavily medication for [a] nerves condition. Between the two bouts of cancer, all the surgeries, medication and other medical problems she [has] had[,] her nerves are shot. There is also depression and inability to sleep. We have also been through the court system the last couple of weeks to address someone harassing her. I need to get her away from the area and to family that will be there and help. All of this is the reason we will be moving, also our house has been sold and closing on July lst. With this information I was hoping you could help us with something. I have been training two die cutters on first shift and I will start training two from 3rd shift. Everyone should be well trained buy [sic] the end of June if not before. I was wandering [sic] if there's any way Monarch can give me a lay off as of June 30th. I have job prospects in Florida but may take another month or two before starting. I know this is an odd request but I need [to] make this move for my wife's health and our marriage. Bill thank you for your time.

All this might have been much harder to get out and express in person, so please forgive the e[-]mail. I would like to speak with you when you have time. Thank you again.

Sincerely[,] Chet Paolini.

Monarch interpreted Paolini's request for a "lay off" as his resignation. Messner responded to the e-mail, advising Paolini that Monarch is unable to lay off an employee at the employee's request to facilitate his eligibility for unemployment benefits. At the administrative hearing on Paolini's claim, Messner more fully explained that "layoffs are there if there is lack of work; currently we need him to perform his job. And we said if he needs to leave Monarch he must resign."

Consequently, Paolini resigned from his employment with Monarch and filed a claim for unemployment benefits on June 27, 2010. In a determination mailed July 21, 2010, a Deputy Director of the Division of Unemployment Insurance (Deputy Director) determined that Paolini was disqualified for benefits from June 27, 2010 for having left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work. Paolini appealed that decision to the Appeal Tribunal, which held a telephonic hearing at which Paolini acknowledged the accuracy of his May 20, 2010 e-mail, but added other reasons for his move to Florida. Paolini explained that he could no longer "afford to live [or "stay"] in the area" due to his reduction in pay and his wife taking disability leave, and therefore he and his wife decided to move to Florida around May 2010 to be with family and where he had a job opportunity lined up. Despite experiencing economic difficulty, Paolini never discussed his financial predicament with Monarch.

The Appeal Tribunal affirmed the Deputy Director's determination, concluding that Paolini left the job at Monarch and relocated to another state for "personal reason[s]," namely a "better job opportunity and spouse health issues[,]" thus finding him disqualified for unemployment benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). On further appeal, the Board affirmed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal.

On appeal, claimant argues the Board's decision is erroneous. We disagree.

Our scope of review of an agency decision is limited. Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963). In challenging the agency's conclusion, claimant carries a substantial burden of persuasion, and the determination by the administrative agency carries a presumption of correctness. Gloucester Cnty. Welfare Bd. v. State Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390-91 (1983). We also accord substantial deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute it is charged with enforcing. Bd. of Educ. of Neptune v. Neptune Twp. Educ. Ass'n, 144 N.J. 16, 31 (1996). We will overturn an agency determination only if it is found to be arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole, or inconsistent with the enabling statute or legislative policy. Barry v. Arrow Pontiac, Inc., 100 N.J. 57, 71 (1985) (citing Gloucester Cnty. Welfare Bd., supra, 93 N.J. at 391); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); N.J. Guild of Hearing Aid Dispensers v. Long, 75 N.J. 544, 562-63 (1978).

The governing statute, N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), provides that an individual is disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits where that "individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." In order to avoid disqualification, the claimant has the burden to establish that he left work for good cause attributable to the work. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 218 (1997). "Good cause means 'cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed,' and the reasons for terminating employment 'must meet the test of ordinary common sense and prudence.'" Heulitt v. Bd. of Review, 300 N.J. Super. 407, 414 (App. Div. 1997) (quoting Zielinski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 53-54 (App. Div. 1964)).

Persons who leave work for good, but personal causes are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Utley v. Bd. of Review, 194 N.J. 534, 544 (2008); Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 213. Thus, mere dissatisfaction with one's income does not constitute good cause for leaving work attributable to the work. See Nicholas v. Bd. of Review, 171 N.J. Super. 36 (App. Div. 1979). Here, as his resignation e-mail makes clear, Paolini elected to leave Monarch because of the health of his wife, who had to take disability leave from her job, and the presence of family as well as another job opportunity in Florida, all personal reasons. Significantly, absent from his e-mail is any mention that he is leaving Monarch for any reason connected with his work, such as his reduction in wages, loss of overtime, or financial distress. Nor did he ever discuss his financial circumstances with any of his supervisors at Monarch. But even assuming his reduced pay may have been a factor, it did not compel his leaving Monarch. Paolini can point to no contractual breach by Monarch. See, e.g., DeSantis v. Bd. of Review, 149 N.J. Super. 35, 38 (App. Div. 1977). Moreover, the $3.00 per hour wage reduction, amounting to less than a 12% pay cut, is not the "substantial reduction" in wages that constitutes, in our view, good cause attributable to the work. See, e.g., Wojcik v. Bd. of Review, 58 N.J. 341, 345 (1971); Johns-Manville Prods. Corp. v. Bd. of Review, 122 N.J. Super. 366, 370 (App. Div. 1971).

The Board's decision finding claimant disqualified from unemployment benefits because he left work for personal reasons is supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Barry, supra, 100 N.J. at 71. We discern no basis to disturb the Board's determination.



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