Submitted: January 21, 2015,
Approved for Publication March 16, 2015.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 423,182.
L.C., appellant, Pro se.
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent Board of Review ( Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Adam Verone, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Respondent Lakeland Bank has not filed a brief.
Before Judges MESSANO, OSTRER and HAYDEN. The opinion of the court was delivered by OSTRER, J.A.D.
[439 N.J.Super. 584] OPINION
In this unemployment insurance appeal, we construe N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(j), which allows a person to receive unemployment insurance benefits when he or she has quit work for reasons related to domestic violence. L.C. claimed she quit her job at Lakeland Bank and moved to Utah to flee an abusive ex-spouse.
Since 1961, our unemployment insurance laws have generally disqualified claimants from receiving benefits if they " left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." L. 1961, c. 43, § 3, codified at N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Personal reasons for quitting unrelated to work, regardless of how compelling, have not warranted benefits. Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 456-57, 453 A.2d 170 (1982). However, in 2000, the Legislature created an exception for workers who leave work because they are victims of [439 N.J.Super. 585] domestic violence. L. 1999, c. 391, § 1 (1999 Law), codified at N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(j).
L.C. argues that the Board of Review (Board) misapplied the 1999 Law in denying her claim for benefits. The Board affirmed the determination of the Appeal Tribunal (Tribunal) that L.C. had presented insufficient evidence that she was a victim of domestic violence. The Board did not consider a letter from L.C.'s divorce lawyer, identifying various acts of domestic violence by her estranged husband. As we conclude the Board should consider a certification from L.C.'s attorney under the 1999 Law, we reverse and remand for a new hearing.
In February 2013, after almost six years on the job, L.C. gave Lakeland Bank two weeks' notice that she was resigning as a loan processor. On March 17, 2013, she filed her unemployment claim. The deputy denied her claim as a voluntary quit without good cause attributable to work. L.C. appealed, claiming protection under the 1999 Law.
The statute includes two essential elements. First, a claimant must establish that he or she is a victim of domestic violence as defined in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19. Second, the claimant must establish that the loss of employment, by quitting or discharge, was causally related to being a victim. The key statutory provision
states: " Notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter . . . no otherwise eligible individual shall be denied benefits because the individual left work or was discharged due to circumstances resulting from the individual being a victim of domestic violence as defined in section 3 of P.L.1991, c.261 (C.2C:25-19)." N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(j). Employers' accounts are unaffected. Ibid.
The statute identifies six categories of evidence that suffice as proof of victimization. At issue in our case is the sixth category, which refers to " documentation or certification" from various [439 N.J.Super. 586] professionals who have " assisted the individual in dealing with the domestic violence." Ibid.
For the purposes of this subsection (j), the individual shall be treated as being a victim of domestic violence if the individual provides one or more of the following:
(1) A restraining order or other documentation of equitable relief issued by a court of competent jurisdiction;
(2) A police record documenting the domestic violence;
(3) Documentation that the perpetrator of the domestic violence has been convicted of one or more of the offenses enumerated in section 3 of P.L.1991, c.261 (C.2C:25-19);
(4) Medical documentation of the domestic violence;
(5) Certification from a certified Domestic Violence Specialist or the director of a designated domestic violence agency that the individual is a victim of domestic violence; or
(6) Other documentation or certification of the domestic violence provided by a social worker, member of the clergy, shelter worker or other professional who has assisted the individual in dealing with the domestic violence.
[ Ibid. ]
The Tribunal hearing was conducted in two sessions on May 28 and May 30, 2013. The only witnesses were L.C.; her friend, D.S.; and her former supervisor, M.M. They all appeared by telephone.
The witnesses testified without dispute that L.C.'s husband humiliated her, damaged her property, and physically assaulted her. L.C. testified that she and her husband began living separately in their home in late 2011 or early 2012. She often stayed in the homes of friends. In February or March 2012, she sought permission from the court to relocate with their teenage children. Her husband responded a few months later by filing for divorce. The proceedings that followed were contentious.
L.C. testified that her husband forced her to sleep in the basement in a sleeping bag. She was also subjected to demeaning, coarse, and insulting language from her husband and, at her husband's instigation, her children. One morning, she awoke to find all four of her tires flattened. She contended she was too afraid to file a domestic violence complaint against her husband. But, she asserted that police had to respond to their home on multiple occasions because of their domestic disputes.
[439 N.J.Super. 587] She testified that she essentially surrendered to all her husband's demands in the divorce action, including his request for sole custody of their children, and sole possession of the marital home. The divorce was finalized on March 12, 2013, one day after L.C.'s last day on the job at Lakeland Bank. L.C. moved to ...