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John P. Walter v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


September 21, 2011

JOHN P. WALTER, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND WAWA INC., RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 267,426.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 13, 2011

Before Judges Simonelli and Hayden.

Appellant appeals from the final decision of the Board of Review (Board) disqualifying him from receipt of unemployment compensation after he left his employment at Wawa, Inc. (Wawa).

The Board held that appellant voluntarily left his job without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.

In July 2003, appellant began his employment with Wawa as an Assistant Manager. He was promoted to General Manager in May 2007.

In a mid-year evaluation in 2009, the Area Manager, Michael Dwyer, advised appellant that there were areas of appellant's work performance that required improvement or else "change would have [to be] made A.S.A.P." Appellant was aware that a demotion was possible if his work performance did not improve.

On December 14, 2009, Dwyer informed appellant that he would be demoted to Assistant Manager due to poor performance. Dwyer scheduled a follow-up meeting for December 16, 2009, to discuss the details of the demotion; however, appellant resigned before that discussion occurred. Appellant would have resigned regardless of whether he earned his current salary in the new position because he believed the demotion was unfair and personal.*fn1

Appellant did not discuss any concerns about his job performance with upper management or the Human Resources Department prior to his resignation. He knew he could file a request for conflict resolution with the Human Resources Department, but chose not to do so.

The Appeal Tribunal found that appellant failed to: (1) establish that the employer's assessment of his job performance was incorrect or that he was being singled out for an unwarranted demotion; (2) exhaust all opportunities to rectify the situation before resigning; and (3) establish that the working conditions were so severe as to cause him to quit his job. The Appeal Tribunal concluded that appellant was disqualified for benefits as of December 13, 2009, because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). The Board accepted these findings. This appeal followed.

Our review of an administrative agency decision is limited. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). "'[I]n reviewing the factual findings made in an unemployment compensation proceeding, the test is not whether [we] would come to the same conclusion if the original determination was [ours] to make, but rather whether the factfinder could reasonably so conclude upon the proofs.'" Ibid. (quoting Charatan v. Bd. of Review, 200 N.J. Super. 74, 79 (App. Div. 1985)). "If the Board's factual findings are supported 'by sufficient credible evidence, [we] are obliged to accept them.'" Ibid. (quoting Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 459 (1982)). We also give due regard to the agency's credibility findings. Logan v. Bd. of Review, 299 N.J. Super. 346, 348 (App. Div. 1997). "Unless . . . the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, the agency's ruling should not be disturbed." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210.

An employee is disqualified for benefits:

For the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work, and for each week thereafter until the individual becomes reemployed and works four*fn2 weeks in employment . . . . [N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).]

An employee who has left work voluntarily has the burden of proving that he or she "did so with good cause attributable to work." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 218 (citing Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 52 (App. Div. 1964); Goebelbecker v. State, 53 N.J. Super. 53, 59 (App. Div. 1958)); see also Stauhs v. Bd. of Review, 93 N.J. Super. 451, 457 (App. Div. 1967); Morgan v. Bd. of Review, 77 N.J. Super. 209, 213 (App. Div. 1962); N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(c). "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) (quoting Condo v. Bd. of Review, 158 N.J. Super. 172, 174 (App. Div. 1978)). N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b) defines "good cause attributable to such work" as "a reason related directly to the individual's employment, which was so compelling as to give the individual no choice but to leave the employment."

An employee who leaves work for good, but personal, reasons is not deemed to have left work voluntarily with good cause. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 213; Self, supra, 91 N.J. at 457; Rider Coll. v. Bd. of Review, 167 N.J. Super. 42, 47-48 (App. Div. 1979). "'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.'" Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 288 (quoting Medwick v. Bd. of Review, 69 N.J. Super. 338, 345 (App. Div. 1961)). "'The decision to leave employment must be compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances . . . attributable to the work.'" Shuster v. Bd. of Review, 396 N.J. Super. 240, 244-45 (App. Div. 2007) (quoting Fernandez v. Bd. of Review, 304 N.J. Super. 603, 606 (App. Div. 1997)); see also In re N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.6 ex rel. State Dep't of Labor, 395 N.J. Super. 394, 399-400 (App. Div. 2007). "[I]t is the employee's responsibility to do what is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed." Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 288 (citing Condo, supra, 158 N.J. Super. at 175; Zielenski, supra, 85 N.J. Super. at 53-54).

Here, the determination that appellant left work without good cause attributable to the work is amply supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole, and is not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Appellant's reason for resigning does not constitute good cause for leaving work voluntarily.

Affirmed.


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