MacGREGOR v. CALIFORNIA EMPLOYMENT DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT

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Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1, California.

Patricia A. MacGREGOR, Petitioner and Respondent, v. CALIFORNIA UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD, Respondent and Appellant. CALIFORNIA EMPLOYMENT DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT and Ramada Inn, Real Parties In Interest.

A016167.

Decided: December 21, 1983

Robert J. Shull, Legal Aid Society, San Jose, for petitioner and respondent. Charlton G. Holland, III, Asher Rubin, Deputy Attys. Gen., San Francisco, for respondent and appellant.

The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board appeals from a superior court judgment determining that claimant left her employment with good cause.

The judgment is reversed and remanded with directions to deny the writ.

Statement of Facts

Patricia A. MacGregor (hereafter, “MacGregor”) was employed as a waitress by the Ramada Inn in Santa Clara, California, from July 7, 1978, through December 31, 1979.   On January 1, 1980, she left work on an approved six-month pregnancy leave of absence, during which time a daughter was born.   MacGregor and her fiance, Richard Bailey, the self-acknowledged father of the child, had known each other for more than 10 years and had lived together for over three years.   MacGregor claims she and Bailey intend to marry, but have not set a date because they “can't afford to get married yet the way we want to do it.”

Bailey's father was 76 years old and under a physician's care for a variety of serious afflictions, including angina, prostate problems requiring surgery, and arthritis.   Bailey's father, in early 1980, informed Bailey he anticipated surgery would be required in late summer or early fall.   The father apparently no longer wanted to live alone due to his illness, although he was not confined to his home at that time.   Bailey is the only child in his family and there were no other relatives nearby who could care for his father.   In mid-April, 1980, MacGregor and Bailey decided to move to New York “so that we could be close to him in case of an emergency, or if he required our attention.”

Before returning from her leave, MacGregor notified Ramada that she would not be returning to work because she and her fiance were relocating to New York to care for his ill father.   MacGregor, Bailey, and their child left California on June 1, 1980, for New York.

On June 6, 1980, MacGregor applied for unemployment benefits in New York.   As an interstate claim, it was referred to California for determination.   The Employment Development Department determined that she had voluntarily quit without good cause and that she was ineligible to receive benefits.   On MacGregor's file, the department representative noted that she had decided to separate from Ramada Inn by moving to New York to be with her fiance's father and that her leaving was “Prsnl [sic], not compelling.”

MacGregor appealed this determination, and a hearing was held before a New York referee.   The transcript was sent to California for decision.   The administrative law judge rendered his decision, affirming the determination.   In his reasons for decision, the judge found:

1) That MacGregor had failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that she had good cause for quitting;

2) That no evidence was presented that MacGregor quit work to preserve a marriage or family unit and that it was not apparent why it was essential for MacGregor to follow her fiance to New York;

3) That MacGregor left work without good cause.

MacGregor appealed this decision to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (hereafter, “CUIAB”).   CUIAB held that, upon independent review of the record, it found no material error in the statement of facts and that the reasons for decision properly applied the law to the facts.   It adopted the judge's statement of facts and reasons as its own and affirmed his denial of benefits.

At all administrative levels, MacGregor had been denied benefits.   She then petitioned the superior court for a peremptory writ of mandate.   After a hearing, the court ruled in her favor.

The court made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

“FINDINGS OF FACT

“1. Petitioner, Patricia MacGregor, lived with her fiance, Dick Bailey, for approximately three (3) years.

“2. The petitioner became pregnant and ultimately gave birth to a child fathered by her fiance.

“3. The petitioner established a family unit consisting of herself, her fiance and their child.

“4. The petitioner's fiance made the decision to relocate to New York to live with his ailing, elderly father.

“5. The petitioner chose to relocate to New York with her fiance and their child in order to maintain and preserve their family unit.

“6. Child care was available in New York from the petitioner's mother making the petitioner available for work after relocation.

“7. Petitioner quit her job as a waitress at the Ramada Inn in Santa Clara County, California because of her decision to accompany her family to New York.

“CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

“1. California Insurance Code Section 1256 provides for payment of unemployment insurance benefits to a claimant who is otherwise eligible for benefits and has voluntarily quit their most recent employment for good cause.

“2. Voluntarily quitting a job to maintain and preserve a family unit is ‘good cause’ as it is construed under section 1256 of the Unemployment Insurance Code.

“3. The underlying facts in the record establish that the petitioner did voluntarily quit with good cause as it is construed under Section 1256.   Consequently, the claimant is entitled to receive benefits if otherwise eligible.”

The superior court issued a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the CUIAB to set aside its decision denying MacGregor benefits, and to reconsider its action in light of the findings of the court.

CUIAB appeals the order of the superior court and its determination that MacGregor left her work for “good cause” and is, therefore, not disqualified from receiving benefits under the California Unemployment Insurance Code.

The question on appeal is whether the superior court made reversible error in its legal conclusion that MacGregor quit her work for “good cause” and is, therefore, entitled to receive benefits.

Argument

CUIAB argues on appeal that MacGregor left her employment without good cause.   It distinguishes the instant case from situations involving married persons who leave their jobs to follow their spouses or fiances to other locales.   It also argues that there are strong reasons to deny benefits in the case of unmarried couples with a child as compared to married couples with a child.

MacGregor argues, in part, that the fact she and her fiance are not yet married should not result in a denial of benefits, that such a denial would violate her right to privacy and would constitute unlawful discrimination.   She contends that “there is no marital requirement for ‘good cause’ in this situation,” that “good cause” for leaving one's employment is determined by looking at the underlying facts, and that substantial evidence supports the lower court's finding that she left her job to maintain a “family unit.”

Discussion

Many of the arguments made by both parties are now moot as a result of the California Supreme Court's decision in Norman v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1983) 34 Cal.3d 1, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.

In Norman, the claimant's fiance found a job in the state of Washington and moved there.   She quit her job in California and joined him in Washington.   The Supreme Court's opinion contains the following remarks pertaining to her reasons for doing so:  “During the hearing of her administrative appeal, plaintiff acknowledged that she had no definite job prospects in Washington and had left her position ‘Because my fiance was moving to Washington and I moved up here with my fiance.’   In her words, the ‘sole reason’ she quit work was to join her fiance and ‘it kind of put me on the spot, either come up here and live with him up here in Washington or to break up.’   Plaintiff further testified that in January 1979 she and her fiance decided to marry in June 1980.   She did not, however, represent that her marriage was imminent, that her presence in Washington was required to prepare for the wedding, or, indeed, that she had any definite or fixed marital plans.”  (Id., at p. 4, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)

The Supreme Court described various administrative problems and policy questions in these words:  “Recognizing and favoring those with established marital and familial ties not only furthers the state's interest in promoting such relationships but assures a more readily verifiable method of proof․  As in Cummings [In re Cummings (1982) 30 Cal.3d 870, 180 Cal.Rptr. 826, 640 P.2d 1101], numerous problems of standards and difficulties of proof would arise if we imposed upon an administrative agency the function of deciding which relationships merited treatment equivalent to the treatment afforded those with formal marriages.   The inevitable questions such as the factors deemed relevant, the length of the relationship, the parties' eventual plans as to marriage, and the sincerity of their beliefs as to whether they should ever marry.   The potential for administrative intrusions into rights of privacy and association would be severe if agencies bore the burden of ferreting out the ‘true depth’ and intimacy of a relationship in order to determine whether the existence and nature of the relationship was the equivalent of marriage.”   (Norman v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 34 Cal.3d at p. 10, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)   We discern no difference whether those problems and difficulties are imposed on administrative agencies or on the courts;  the effect is the same.   And the intrusions into one's rights of privacy and association are the same whether imposed by an agency or by court order.

The Supreme Court reversed the award of benefits, holding that claimant had not established “good cause” for leaving her California employment.   The court noted that while good cause might exist where relocation is due to an imminent marriage, the claimant “did not demonstrate the ‘imminency of her marriage’ or any need for termination of employment at the time that she left work because of marriage related obligations.”  (Id., at p. 9, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)

Much of the discussion in the Norman opinion revolves around Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660, 134 Cal.Rptr. 815, 557 P.2d 106 and the limitations to the Marvin decision, particularly insofar as one might seek to use Marvin to justify the same treatment under the Unemployment Insurance Code for both married and unmarried partners.   The following passages from Norman are illustrative:  “[P]laintiff relies heavily upon Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660 [134 Cal.Rptr. 815, 557 P.2d 106] ․, and the appellate decision in Department of Industrial Relations v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1979) 94 Cal.App.3d 72 [156 Cal.Rptr. 183] ․, in arguing that her nonmarital relationship is the equivalent of a marriage for purposes of determining ‘good cause.’   We conclude otherwise.”  (Norman v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 34 Cal.3d 1, 6, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)  “The Legislature's decision to give weight to marital relationships in the determination of ‘good cause’ supports public policy encouraging marriage and is a reasonable method of alleviating otherwise difficult problems of proof.  [¶ ] ․ [T]he legislative scheme is not intended to accord the same weight to nonmarital arrangements.”  (Id., at p. 8 [192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904].)  “In the absence of legislation which grants to members of a nonmarital relationship the same benefits as those granted to spouses, no basis exists in this context for extending to nonmarital relations the preferential status afforded to marital relations.”  (Id., at p. 9, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)

Norman thus soundly dismisses any argument based on the theory that, under decisional (e.g., Marvin) or other law (e.g., equal protection), unmarried partners or cohabitees are entitled to be treated the same as married persons or spouses with reference to unemployment insurance benefits.   Thus, the main thrust of Norman does nothing to help MacGregor and, in fact, negates many of her arguments on appeal.

However, the Norman opinion contains a statement which takes on significance, given an important difference between the instant case and Norman:  In the instant case, MacGregor and her fiance have a child.   “Nothing, of course, would prevent claimants in such situations from establishing ‘good cause’ based on compelling circumstances which make the voluntary leaving akin to an involuntary departure.  (See Evenson v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. [ (1976) ] 62 Cal.App.3d [1005] at p. 1016 [133 Cal.Rptr. 488].)  Thus, for example, where there are children of a nonformalized relationship, and an employee leaves his or her position to be with a nonmarital loved one and their children, good cause might be shown.   However, neither the statutes nor our decisions beginning with Marvin require that we extend to partners in nonmarital relationships such as plaintiff, the evidentiary benefits extended to marital partners.”  (Norman v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 34 Cal.3d 1, 10, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)

The court's use of an example fortuitously similar to MacGregor's situation (i.e., the existence of a child) is dictum.   In Evenson, a case cited in Norman, the Court of Appeal stated:  “Even if an employee has left work voluntarily, he is still eligible for benefits if he left for ‘good cause.’   Good cause may exist for personal reasons but those reasons must be so imperative and compelling as to make the voluntary leaving ‘involuntary.’   [Citations.]  In general, ‘good cause,’ as used in an unemployment compensation statute, means such a cause as justifies an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed;  the quitting must be for such a cause as would, in a similar situation, reasonably motivate the average able-bodied and qualified worker to give up his or her employment with its certain wage rewards in order to enter the ranks of the unemployed.”  (Evenson v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 1005, 1016, 133 Cal.Rptr. 488.)

Analysis and Conclusion

“Whether or not there is ‘good cause’ is an issue of law.  [Citation.]”  (Norman v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 34 Cal.3d 1, 6, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)

We conclude that “good cause” does not exist in the present case and that, accordingly, the trial court judgment must be reversed.

Initially, we note that there are significant differences between the granting of benefits when a marriage exists rather than an informal relationship.   These include long-standing legislative and judicial recognition of the social institution of marriage;  the objective, verifiable, and relatively permanent nature of marriage, as compared to an informal relationship;  the greater certainty of parentage of any child of a marriage;  and, the complex administrative problems that would result from recognition of some or, ultimately perhaps, all “living together” relationships.

Evenson involved substantially different, nonmarital, non-family type facts:  The appellate court upheld denial of benefits to an employee who was fired because he refused to pay union dues.   The test of Evenson (because of its substantial factual differences) and the dictum in Norman do not, singly or in the aggregate, compel a finding of good cause where an unmarried couple has a child.   Moreover, Norman indicates at most that, under circumstances similar to those in the present case, “good cause might be shown.”  (Norman v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 34 Cal.3d 1, 10, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904;  emphasis added.)   In addition, we note Norman 's recognition that “neither the statutes nor our decisions ․ require that we extend to partners in nonmarital relationships ․ the evidentiary benefits extended to marital partners.”  (Ibid;  emphasis added.)   We construe the “might” dictum of Norman not as creating a rule of law that every nonmarital couple with a child creates a factual question in all such cases.   Rather, we construe the “might” dictum as indicating that in such a factual situation in the future, the courts should consider whether such an exception to the nonmarital rule should be promulgated.   Such a factual situation is now before us, as it was not in Norman.

And, given Norman 's reluctance to expand existing standards of eligibility without statutory authority and without prior judicial precedent, we note that the provision of benefits under the facts of the present case would represent a very substantial change in existing law.   The statutory basis for the unemployment insurance program is to provide benefits for “persons unemployed through no fault of their own.”  (Unemployment Insurance Code, § 100.)   A person who quits of his own volition is disqualified unless he can show “good cause” for leaving his employment.   Numerous CUIAB decisions have found “good cause” and upheld the award of benefits to persons who have left their employment for compelling reasons related to their spouses' employment or other substantial needs.   No reported appellate case or CUIAB decision has extended benefits to a claimant, with or without a child, who is unmarried and in an informal relationship of uncertain duration such as that before us.   All the administrative problems and policy questions that arise from “equivalent ․ treatment” of formal marriages and informal relationships as described by Norman exist whether a child is or is not involved.

We decline to extend benefits under such circumstances;  any such extension of the law should properly be the result of legislative, and not judicial, action.   As we quoted from Norman earlier, “[i]n the absence of legislation which grants to members of a nonmarital relationship the same benefits as those granted to spouses, no basis exists in this context for extending to nonmarital relations the preferential status afforded to marital relations.”  (Norman v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 34 Cal.3d 1, 9, 192 Cal.Rptr. 134, 663 P.2d 904.)   We conclude the presence of a child of the claimant does not alter that rule.

The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded to the trial court with directions to deny the writ of mandate.

HOLMDAHL, Associate Justice.

ELKINGTON, Acting P.J., and CONSTINE, J.*, concur.

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