On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 192,672.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 27, 2011
Before Judges Carchman and Baxter.
Allied Interior Contractors, Inc. (Allied) appeals from the June 1, 2010 final agency decision of the Board of Review (Board), in which the Board found that Allied's former employee, Kristine Deirocini, demonstrated good cause for leaving her employment and was therefore eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. The record amply supports the Board's conclusion that a pattern of vulgar and degrading comments about women, made by the president of the company, created a hostile work environment that justified Deirocini leaving her employment. We affirm.
Deirocini was employed by Allied as a project accountant from March 21, 2006 through June 13, 2008. Deirocini and Stephanie James, Deirocini's goddaughter, were the only women who worked in the office. On June 12, 2008, the day before Deirocini resigned, a co-worker, Timothy Shire, approached Deirocini to report a coarse and demeaning comment made by Michael Powell, Allied's president. Specifically, Shire told Deirocini that Powell, referring to James, had said, "if only her brain was as big as her tits." Although Deirocini had not heard Powell's remark, Powell was speaking loudly enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear what he said.
According to Deirocini, Powell's remark about her goddaughter was not an isolated incident. On the contrary, similar remarks were made "daily." Deirocini's testimony before the Appeal Tribunal*fn1 described the office environment, and Powell's gender-biased remarks, as follows:
It has been varied[.] [I]t could be anywhere from referring to . . . a woman in an authoritative position that may have been running a job[,] being it was a construction company. Please pardon my language "your [sic] just a bitch" "dumb bitch" "stupid blonde bitch" "c_nt"*fn2 which I despise that word. I want [sic] even say it.
Deirocini added that Powell also referred to women as "m fer." When Deirocini's attorney stated that the actual word was "mother f_cker,"*fn3 Deirocini agreed. According to Deirocini, Powell routinely made degrading comments about women, namely, that women "were always stupid they were always dumb they were always no good." Deirocini explained that although the comments were "never directed" at her, they were disturbing; and Powell's crude remark about her goddaughter was the breaking point. She thought about Powell's remark overnight, and the next morning decided she had "heard enough. I hear women degraded enough[.] I'm done."
When asked why she had never confronted Powell about his degrading comments about women, she responded:
Because as the owner of the company we had no person[ne]l department. We ha[d] no written policy regarding these types of things. And basically Mr. Powell's attitude was he was the owner and if you didn't like the way he conducted business you can either seek employment elsewhere or "you can get [a] home equity loan and take it on you[r] house and start your own business[.]" Not to me directly [but] to other people.
Deirocini also explained that she had remained on the job for two years, despite the unpleasant work environment, because the job "was close to home and it was a good paying job. And the employment [market] was bad then and it's bad now."
Powell testified that Deirocini had not told him why she was quitting on the day she "collected her things and stormed out" of the office. Nonetheless, he believed she quit because she resented his criticism of a bookkeeping mistake she had made that resulted in an overpayment of $1300 to a subcontractor. He added that at the time Deirocini terminated her employment, she was already on probation "for numerous bookkeeping mistakes." He ...