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Jack Rooney v. Board of Review


June 20, 2012


On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 287,203.

Per curiam.


Argued May 1, 2012 --

Before Judges Espinosa and Kennedy.

Claimant Jack Rooney appeals from the February 3, 2011 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.

Rooney commenced working for respondent Sterling, Inc. as a jeweler in 2005. In September 2008, he was promoted to the position of shop manager and transferred to a store in Paramus. In the Summer of 2009, he was demoted to his former position as a jeweler and transferred to a store in Watchung, where he remained until he was transferred back to the Paramus store in November 2009. The shop manager in Paramus was Joseph Insigna.

On April 14, 2010, Rooney called Insigna and left a message on the phone that he was giving two weeks notice of his resignation. Insigna testified that the phone message from Rooney stated "he got a commitment on a house he was selling and he was giving me two weeks notice of resignation because it was quicker th[a]n they anticipated. . . . " Insigna indicated that Rooney's message also stated he "would like to have been relocated eventually. However, he did not know where he was going."

Rooney reported for work on April 15, 2010, and was told by Insigna that his employment was being terminated that day. As Rooney explained, "the policy [is] if you decide to leave you're terminated immediately." Insigna explained that because there is "too much room for error" when dealing with customers' jewelry, the "standard procedure" in the industry is to terminate an employee "that day" if he or she announces an intent to resign.

Rooney later applied for unemployment benefits on May 2, 2010. In a determination mailed June 11, 2010, Rooney was advised that he was disqualified for benefits for having left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work. Rooney appealed that decision to the Appeal Tribunal, which held a telephonic hearing at which Rooney and Insigna testified.

Rooney testified that he resigned because working conditions were "intolerable" due to "bouts of shouting and reprimanding" and threats of discharge. He claimed that he was threatened with discharge in January 2010 in a dispute over vacation time and in March 2010 in a dispute over a schedule change. Insigna denied threatening Rooney with discharge and, in fact, state he interceded on Rooney's behalf with his supervisors. Insigna denied any verbal abuse of Rooney and stated that he had actually requested Rooney's transfer to the Paramus store because he knew that it was closer to Rooney's home than the store in Watchung.

In its decision, the Appeal Tribunal found that Rooney was disqualified for benefits because he "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." The Tribunal explained,

[Rooney] initiated his separation from work when he provided notice to the employer of resignation. His leaving due to selling his home, the desire to relocate and seek other work is for personal reasons not attributed to the work.

The Tribunal also "rejected" Rooney's claims that working conditions were "intolerable", reasoning that Rooney's offer to continue working after giving notice of resignation showed "conditions were not so severe as to provide good cause attributable to the work for leaving." On further appeal, the Board affirmed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal.

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

Our scope of review of an agency decision is limited. Circus Liquors, Inc. v. Governing Body of Middletown, 199 N.J. 1, 9 (2009). In challenging the agency's conclusion, appellant 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, appellant 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. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.7(a) states:

When an individual gives the employer notice of resignation and the employer subsequently terminates the individual's employment prior to the effective date of the notice, the individual's separation shall be reviewed as a voluntarily leaving work issue as of the effective date of the resignation. However, the individual may receive benefits up to the date of resignation, if otherwise eligible.

Consistent with this provision, the Board affirmed the finding that Rooney had resigned and was not terminated. As noted, resignation for personal reasons disqualifies a claimant for unemployment benefits. Utley, supra, 194 N.J. at 544.

The Board's decision finding Rooney 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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