June 3, 2013
JAMES W. BILLINGTON, Appellant,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR and GUITAR CENTER STORES, INC., Respondents.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 23, 2013
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 314, 107.
James W. Billington, appellant pro se.
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent Board of Review (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Lisa N. Lackay, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Respondent Guitar Center Stores, Inc. has not filed a brief.
Before Judges St. John and Leone.
Appellant James Billington appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review (Board) finding him disqualified from benefits as of November 7, 2010, on the ground that he left work voluntarily without good cause attributed to such work, N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Our examination of the record satisfies us that the Board's final decision was properly premised on facts in the record and is consonant with relevant statutory provisions. Accordingly, we affirm.
The record discloses the following facts and procedural history leading to the administrative determination under review.
Billington was hired in 2003 by Guitar Center Stores, Inc. (Guitar Center) as a store manager. Billington left the company for several months due to medical reasons, but returned in February 2010 in an audio sales position. In a November 5, 2010 meeting with his employer, Billington was advised that his co-workers were complaining that he was constantly on the telephone and that he failed to be of assistance to them. On November 8, 2010, Billington submitted a written resignation asserting that he was dissatisfied with his co-workers, supervisor, and work conditions, and further alleging that his co-workers would not speak to him.
Billington filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits. The deputy claims examiner determined that Billington was eligible for benefits. Billington's employer, Guitar Center, appealed the deputy's determination to the Appeal Tribunal. On March 11, 2011, a hearing was held before the Appeal Tribunal. In a March 15, 2011 decision, the Appeal Tribunal determined that Billington was disqualified for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) as of November 7, 2010, as he voluntarily left work without good cause attributed to the work. Billington appealed the decision to the Board, and the Board affirmed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal. Billington appeals from that decision.
Our scope of review of an agency decision is limited. In re Stallworth, 208 N.J. 182, 194 (2011) (citing Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579 (1980)). In challenging an agency conclusion, the claimant carries a substantial burden of persuasion and the determination of the administrative agency carries a presumption of correctness. Gloucester Cnty. Welfare Bd. v. N.J. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390-91 (1983). We also accord substantial deference to the agency's interpretation of a statute it is charged with enforcing. Bd. of Educ. of Neptune v. Neptune Twp. Educ. Ass'n, 144 N.J. 16, 31 (1996). Further, "[w]e are obliged to defer to the Board when its factual findings are based on sufficient credible evidence in the record." Lourdes Med. Ctr. of Burlington Cnty. v. Bd. of Review, 197 N.J. 339, 367 (2009) (internal citations omitted). We overturn an agency determination only if it is arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, unsupported by substantial credible evidence 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).
The purpose of this State's Unemployment Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -71, "is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own . . . ." Yardville Supply Co. v. Bd. of Review, 114 N.J. 371, 375 (1989) (citations omitted). In order to avoid disqualification, the claimant has the burden of establishing that he left work for good cause related to work. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 218 (1997). While the statute does not define "good cause, " it has been construed to require more than mere dissatisfaction with working conditions.
In scrutinizing an employee's reason for leaving, the test is one of ordinary sense and prudence. 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. The decision to leave employment must be compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances not imaginary, trifling and whimsical ones . . . . [I]t is the employee's responsibility to do what is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed.
[Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J.Super. 284, 288 (App. Div. 1983) (internal citations omitted).] Additionally, "good cause" has been defined by regulation 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." N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b).
An employee who quits a job without a sufficient work-related reason is disqualified from benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Moreover, an employee who leaves work for a good but personal reason, is also subject to the disqualification. See Pagan v. Bd. of Review, 296 N.J.Super. 539, 542 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 150 N.J. 24 (1997).
In essence, in determining whether the employee voluntarily left work for a work-related good cause, the employee must show that he or she did all that was "necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed." Heulitt v. Bd. of Review, 300 N.J.Super. 407, 414 (App. Div. 1997) (citation omitted). Clearly, such a test is fact sensitive. See Utley v. Bd. of Review, 194 N.J. 534, 550 (2008). As a result, when an agency's findings of fact are challenged on appeal, we will defer to its findings so long as there is credible evidence in the record to support them. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210.
Billington argues he had good cause for voluntarily leaving employment because of a hostile work environment, reduced work hours, and health issues which he raised for the first time on appeal.
The Appeal Tribunal determined:
In this matter, the claimant left work voluntarily on 11/08/11 because he was unhappy that his co-workers were not speaking to him. The claimant also contends that his pay rate and work hours were reduced, and [he] was demoted, from a manager to a sales person.
Regarding the claimant leaving work because he was unhappy that his co-workers were not speaking to him, this is personal and does not constitute good cause for leaving available work and joining the ranks of the unemployed.
Regarding the claimant leaving work because his pay rate and work hours were reduced, and he was demoted, from a manager to a sales person. The employer denied the claimant's allegation. Furthermore, the claimant provided no evidence during the hearing to substantiate such an allegation. As such, the claimant left work without cause attributable to the work.
Therefore, the claimant left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work and is disqualified for benefits as of 11/07/10 in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).
Billington failed to carry his burden of proving that he did what was reasonable and necessary to remain employed. Applying our highly deferential standard of review, we find no occasion to interfere with the Board's decision. The record amply supports the Board's conclusion affirming the Appeal Tribunal's decision.