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Ballard v. Board of Review

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 1, 2013

SAMUEL J. BALLARD, SR., Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Respondents.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted July 24, 2013

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 272, 374.

Samuel J. Ballard, Sr., appellant, pro se.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Lisa N. Lackay, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Reisner and Yannotti.

PER CURIAM

Samuel J. Ballard, Sr. (Ballard) appeals from a final determination of the Board of Review (Board), which found that he was disqualified for unemployment benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he left his job voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.

Ballard was employed by Bergen County Community Transportation as a bus driver, beginning in October 1976. He went on medical leave in December 2008, and remained on medical leave until the end of November 2009, when he retired. On January 24, 2010, Ballard filed a claim for unemployment benefits. A deputy claims examiner determined that Ballard was disqualified for unemployment benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work.

Ballard sought review of the deputy's decision by the Appeal Tribunal, which conducted a hearing in the matter on June 17, 2010, and upheld the deputy's determination. Ballard appealed to the Board, which rendered a decision dated December 8, 2010, affirming the Appeal Tribunal's decision. Ballard appealed. We remanded the matter for a new hearing and decision.

The Appeal Tribunal conducted the hearing on March 19, 2012. At the hearing, Ballard testified that he suffered from certain medical issues, including a condition called trimethylaminuria, which caused his body to emit what he described as an offensive odor. Ballard said he did not know when he developed this condition, but suggested it could have been five years before he retired. He did not discuss this medical condition with his employer. Ballard believed stress aggravated the condition.

Dr. Edward Farkas, Ballard's psychiatrist, testified that in his opinion, Ballard was suffering from a delusional disorder. According to Dr. Farkas, Ballard believed that he smelled bad, which caused his passengers discomfort and made him stressful. Dr. Farkas said Ballard was unable to manage his anxiety and decided to leave his job.

Dr. Farkas further testified that he believed that Ballard smelled "fine" but Ballard believed that he smelled bad. Dr. Farkas stated that he thought Ballard's condition was delusional. Dr. Farkas was asked whether it was medically necessary for Ballard to leave his job, and he replied that, "I guess if you believe that you smell and you're working at a public place I would imagine it must be very difficult if not impossible."

Jack Funt, Ballard's counselor, testified that he had discussed a myriad of issues with Ballard, including his perception that he suffered from trimethylaminuria. Funt said that Ballard never complained of stress at work. Funt was unable to identify any specific reason why Ballard chose to retire.

Ballard also presented a statement from Dr. Jonathan Shapiro, which indicated that he had tested positive for trimethylaminuria at a mild level and the treatment was dietary. Dr. Shapiro said he never noticed that Ballard had any odor and if he did, it was minimal. Dr. Shapiro also said Ballard had no restrictions on employment, for an age-suitable position.

The Appeal Tribunal issued a decision on March 23, 2012, finding that Ballard retired for personal reasons, which were not caused by the work, and continuing work was available when he retired. The Appeal Tribunal also found that Ballard's retirement was not medically necessary. The Board issued its final decision in the matter on May 11, 2012, upholding the Appeal Tribunal's decision, but noting that Ballard was disqualified for benefits from November 30, 2009, not November 29, 2009, as indicated by the Appeal Tribunal.

On appeal, Ballard argues that he did not voluntarily retire from his job. He asserts that he experienced medical conditions that were aggravated by the demands of his job and the work environment. He asserts that he was ready, willing and able to work and is seeking employment in other venues.

The scope of our review in an appeal from a final determination of the Board is limited. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997) (citing Pub. Serv. Elec. v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 101 N.J. 95, 103 (1985)). "If the Board's factual findings are supported 'by sufficient credible evidence, courts are obliged to accept them.'" Ibid. (quoting Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 459 (1982); Goodman v. London Metals Exch., Inc., 86 N.J. 19, 28-29 (1981)).

New Jersey's Unemployment Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -60, provides in pertinent part that an individual who leaves "work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work" is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). The statute does not define "good cause" but that term has been construed to mean a "'cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed.'" Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 214 (quoting Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J.Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983)).

We are convinced that there is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the Board's finding that Ballard left his job for personal reasons, without good cause attributable to the work, and was therefore disqualified for benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Where, as in this case, a claimant alleges that he resigned involuntarily for medical reasons, he must present evidence showing that the working conditions caused or aggravated a medical condition or will impede a recovery from the condition. Israel v. Bally's Park Place, 283 N.J.Super. 1, 5-6 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 143 N.J. 326 (1995).

Here, Ballard failed to present sufficient evidence to show that his working conditions aggravated or caused any particular medical problem. Rather, the evidence established that Ballard left his job as a bus driver due to stress caused by his perceived body odor and his concern about its possible impact upon his passengers. Moreover, Ballard did not tell his employer about his alleged medical condition or give the employer an opportunity to provide an accommodation. Thus, the record supports the Board's decision that Ballard's reasons for retiring were personal and not attributable to his work.

Affirmed.


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