JESSICA FURNARE v. BOARD OF REVIEW DEPARTMENT OF LABOR CHILDREN DOMAIN LLC THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE

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Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

JESSICA L. FURNARE, Appellant, v. BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR and CHILDREN'S DOMAIN, LLC t/a THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE, Respondents.

DOCKET NO. A–4089–11T1

Decided: April 23, 2014

Before Judges Fuentes and Haas. Jessica L. Furnare, appellant pro se. John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent Board of Review (Lisa A. Puglisi, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel;  Robert M. Strang, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).   Respondent Children's Domain, LLC t/a The Learning Experience has not filed a brief.

Jessica L. Furnare appeals from the decision of the Board of Review denying her application for unemployment compensation benefits.   We affirm.

Appellant was employed at Children's Domain, L.L.C., as a pre-school teacher from October 2009 until she left on August 24, 2010, to have a child.   She thereafter applied for and received maternity disability benefits for approximately eight weeks.   Appellant testified before the Appeal Tribunal that sometime before her maternity disability benefits ended on October 23, 2010, she spoke to the owner of Children's Domain, Julian Best, and requested additional time off under “the Family Leave Insurance that the State has available.”   She claimed Best told her he was not legally required to provide his employees with this benefit.

By certified letter dated October 18, 2010, Best memorialized his conversation with appellant concerning her employment status.

Dear Jessica:

As you know, your temporary disability is about to expire.   At your recent visit to the center we discussed your return to work.   At that time, you were unsure of your intentions.   I also discussed with you that I do have a full time position available for you in our Preppers classroom.

I look forward to hearing from you about your decision so that I can make arrangements for proper staffing of our family center.   I will need your final decision no later than, Thursday October 21, 2010 as your disability is over on that day. [sic].

As a result of her interactions with Best, appellant filed an application for unemployment compensation benefits on November 14, 2010, which she voluntarily withdrew four days later on November 18, 2010.   Appellant testified she decided to withdraw her application for unemployment compensation benefits when she received a letter allegedly indicating “that you can qualify for, if you do not have a job you need to call and do this for FLI [Family Leave Insurance], and file the FLI and that is what I did and then I got the six weeks of FLI.”

Appellant's reference to Family Leave Insurance is actually a misnomer for compensation available under Family Temporary Disability Leave (FTDL) under N.J.S.A. 43:21–39.1. Appellant received FTDL benefits from October 25, 2010 to December 5, 2010.   After exhausting her FTDL benefits, appellant filed a second application for unemployment compensation benefits on December 12, 2010.   The Deputy Claims Examiner denied her application, finding that appellant left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work.   N.J.S.A. 43:21–5.

The Appeal Tribunal reversed the Claims Examiner's decision, holding appellant was not disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21–5(a) or (b) because she was discharged “while out on a medical leave of absence, because her employer could no longer hold her position available for her.”   Appellant's employer Children's Domain appealed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal to the Board of Review.   In support of its petition for review by the Board, Children's Domain emphasized that

[Appellant] was never told she could not have her job back.   In fact, we gave her offers at two different centers- hoping to be able to have her back to work after her maternity leave.   What did occur was [appellant] asking the owner, Mr. Julian Best, during a visit to the center with her newborn, to lay her off so she could continue to collect and be a stay at home mom.   There is no issue with her desire to be a stay at home mother-however, she cannot say we were not willing to re-employ her.   We did not even know she filed for FMLA until we received the week of Thanksgiving 2011.[sic]. [Appellant] was due back to work in October [2010] and as I stated she was made offers.

The employer's representative also indicated that they attempted to contact appellant to ascertain her willingness to return to work, but certified letters addressed to her residence were returned by the United Stated Postal Service marked “refused.”   Based on this information, the Board found appellant “voluntarily left her job for personal reasons not directly attributable to the employment.   Therefore, the claimant is disqualified for benefits from October 23, 2010 in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21–5(a).” 1

Our capacity to review decisions of the administrative agency charged with enforcing the laws and regulations governing the disbursement of unemployment benefits is limited.  Shuster v. Bd. of Review, 396 N.J.Super. 240, 245 (App.Div.2007).   We must determine whether the agency acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably.  Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997).   In going about this task, we look to the following four factors:

(1) whether the agency's decision offends the State or Federal Constitution;

(2) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies;

(3) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action;  and

(4) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant facts.

[Id. at 211 (quoting George Harms Constr. v. Turnpike Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994)).]

New Jersey's Unemployment Compensation Law N.J.S.A. 43:21–1 to –24.30, “is social legislation that provides financial assistance to eligible workers suffering the distress and dislocation caused by unemployment.”  Utley v. Bd. of Review, 194 N.J. 534, 543 (2008).   The protections extended by the Legislature under the Unemployment Compensation Law are not only to employees who are involuntarily terminated, but also to employees who “voluntarily quit their jobs for good cause attributable to their work.”  Id. at 544.

N.J.S.A. 43:21–5(a) disqualifies an individual from the receipt of unemployment compensation benefits “ ‘[f]or the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work and for each week thereafter until the individual becomes reemployed.’ ”  Ibid. Therefore, “benefits are available to a worker who voluntarily leaves his job only if it is for ‘good cause attributable to [the] work.’ ”  Ibid. If an employee leaves his job for personal reasons then he is disqualified under the statute.  Id. at 544–45.

Here, the record amply supports the Board's decision to deny appellant's application for unemployment compensation benefits.   Appellant's decision to forgo returning to work at Children's Domain to stay at home with her infant child was purely personal and unrelated to good cause attributable to the work.   She is thus disqualified for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21–5(a).

Affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

1.  FN1. Although the Board did not order appellant to refund benefits collected during this period of ineligibility, it specifically noted that the “potential liability for refund of benefits received will be determined by the Director in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21–16(d).”

PER CURIAM

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