Unemployment Benefit Denial Upheld, Notwithstanding Alleged Hostile Work Environment

In Matter of Colon (Staffing Solutions Org. LLC – Commissioner of Labor), No. 528844, 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 00656, 2020 WL 476389 (N.Y.A.D. 3 Dept., Jan. 30, 2020), the court upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to claimant, who resigned from her employment citing, among other things, a hostile work environment.

The Department of Labor initially ruled that claimant was eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits. The employer contested that determination and requested a hearing, at the conclusion of which an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that claimant voluntarily left her employment without good cause. The ALJ expressly credited the testimony offered by the employer, concluding, among other things, that claimant’s allegations of harassment were unsubstantiated and that the employer did not engage in retaliatory conduct by issuing claimant a warning in response to client complaints regarding deficiencies in claimant’s work performance. The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board affirmed the ALJ’s decision, prompting this appeal.

The court summarized the relevant law:

Whether a claimant has voluntarily left employment for good cause is a factual determination to be made by the Board, and its decision will not be disturbed if supported by substantial evidence. Notably, issues of witness credibility, the evaluation of evidence and the inferences to be drawn therefrom are within the exclusive province of the Board. [Internal citations and quotation marks omitted.]

Applying the law, the court explained:

Although claimant asserted that she had been constructively discharged due to, among other things, the employer’s retaliatory response to claimant’s allegations of sexual harassment and the employer’s failure to pay claimant certain commissions purportedly due and owing, the Board did not find her credible. Quitting in anticipation of discharge does not constitute good cause for leaving one’s employment, and the Board was free to reject claimant’s assertion that her work environment had become so intolerable as to justify her resignation. Dissatisfaction with one’s working conditions or wages and an inability to get along with a difficult supervisor or coworker also do not qualify as good cause for resigning. To the extent that claimant argues that she received medical advice not to return to work, claimant’s treating physician – at claimant’s request – cleared claimant to return to work before she elected to resign, and the letter from claimant’s therapist advising that claimant should not return to her former employment postdated claimant’s resignation. Finally, [a]lthough fearing for one’s safety may constitute reasonable cause for resigning, the record in this matter does not support claimant’s contention that her physical well-being would have been jeopardized by her continued employment. [Internal citations and quotation marks omitted.]

In sum, as explained by the Court, “the Board elected to credit the testimony of the employer’s witnesses and, as the Board’s decision is supported by substantial evidence, it will not be disturbed.”

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