IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Board of Review,
No. 285 C.D. 2011
Submitted: August 26, 2011
HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge
HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge
HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge
OPINION NOT REPORTED
MEMORANDUM OPINION BY
FILED: September 7, 2011
Jane Yeckel (Claimant) petitions, pro se, for review of the December 13,
2010 order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR) affirming
the Referee‟s determination denying Claimant unemployment compensation benefits
pursuant to Section 402(b) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law).1 The
issue before this Court is whether Claimant had a necessitous and compelling reason
for quitting her job. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the order of the UCBR.
Claimant was employed full time as a registrar for the Pittsburgh
Institute of Aeronautics (Employer) beginning on June 25, 2007. Claimant quit her
position with Employer on July 7, 2010 due to what she deemed a hostile work
Act of December 5, 1936, Second Ex.Sess., P.L. (1937) 2897, as amended, 43 P.S. §
environment. Specifically, Claimant had a personality conflict with two of her coworkers.
Claimant filed for unemployment compensation (UC) benefits through
the Duquesne UC Service Center, which deemed her ineligible for benefits pursuant
to Section 402(b) of the Law. Claimant appealed the decision, and a hearing was
held before a Referee on September 27, 2010, at which Claimant and two witnesses
for Employer testified. Claimant was not represented by counsel at the hearing. On
October 1, 2010, the Referee issued an order affirming the UC Service Center‟s
decision. Claimant appealed to the UCBR. By order issued December 13, 2010, the
UCBR affirmed the Referee‟s order, adopting and incorporating the Referee‟s
findings and conclusions. Claimant appealed to this Court.2
Claimant argues on appeal that the conditions of her employment were
so egregious as to represent a necessitous and compelling reason for voluntarily
leaving her employment, but that she was not given a full opportunity to present
evidence of her claim before the Referee. We disagree.
Section 402(b) of the Law provides that an employee shall be ineligible
for compensation for any week “[i]n which his unemployment is due to voluntarily
leaving work without cause of a necessitous and compelling nature . . . .”
Necessitous and compelling cause „results from
circumstances which produce pressure to terminate
employment that is both real and substantial, and which
would compel a reasonable person under the circumstances
to act in the same manner.‟ An employee voluntarily
terminating employment has the burden of proving his
termination was necessitous and compelling.
This Court‟s review is limited to determining whether the findings of fact were supported
by substantial evidence, whether constitutional rights were violated, or whether errors of law were
committed. Brunswick Hotel & Conference Ctr., LLC v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 906
A.2d 657 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006).
Renda v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 837 A.2d 685, 691-92 (Pa. Cmwlth.
2003) (citation omitted). This Court has held:
Where an employee voluntarily terminates employment due
to a personality conflict with another employee which
conflict renders working conditions intolerable, cause of a
necessitous and compelling nature for terminating
employment has been held to exist. . . . [M]ere personality
conflict absent an intolerable work atmosphere, however,
does not constitute necessitous and compelling reasons for a
Gioia v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 661 A.2d 34, 37 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995)
(citation omitted) (quoting Uniontown Newspapers, Inc. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd.
of Review, 558 A.2d 627, 629 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1989) (emphasis deleted)).
According to the record in this case, at the September 27, 2010 hearing,
the Referee confirmed that Claimant was aware of her right to be represented by
counsel. The parties were advised by the Referee that each would have the right to
present testimony and evidence, and Claimant was specifically advised that she had
the “burden or responsibility to demonstrate that she had cause of necessitous and
compelling nature for leaving employment.” Notes of Testimony, September 27,
2010 (N.T.) at 3. Claimant had no questions regarding the procedure. The Referee
told her to state under oath why July 7, 2010 was her last day of employment with
She testified that she was humiliated by two co-workers, the Dean of
Students and the Director of Human Resources (HR). Specifically, she stated that, on
July 6, 2010, the HR Director humiliated her in front of a student. Claimant was told
that the student was in the office to see her. She went to the front office to see what
the student wanted, then returned to her office to get paperwork and contact the
financial aid office. The HR Director told Claimant that it was against policy to
conduct business in the front office, and that she should have taken the student to her
office. The HR Director later apologized to Claimant. Claimant reported the incident
to her supervisor, Director of Student Services, Greg Null, who discussed the incident
with Director, James Mader. Claimant testified that Mr. Mader told her that some
people will never change. When she said she planned to quit, Mr. Null and Mr.
Mader asked her to take the afternoon to think it over first. When she returned to
work the next day, she gave her notice of resignation. She claims that she exhausted
all avenues of staying with Employer, but felt since personalities were not going to
change, the situation would not change.
The Referee asked her about other instances she may wish to address.
Claimant stated that, in April of 2009, she was responsible for completing graduation
information, but there were problems with the computers. When she approached the
HR Director, who was also the office manager, the HR Director told her that she was
working on items for an upcoming board meeting and “she didn‟t have time,” and
that Claimant should “just deal with it.” N.T. at 8. She took the matter to Mr. Mader,
and the computer issues were resolved.
As for incidents involving the Dean of Students, Claimant testified that
she had to work closely with him. She described that, “for a long time, he seemed to
be so distant and I was unsure why.” N.T. at 9. She also said that “[h]e would
withhold information and sort of on the sly, like things were done and then it couldn‟t
be changed.” N.T. at 9. She testified that they would discuss things, and later he
would tell her that he was old and did not remember them. The Referee found this
testimony vague and asked her to be more specific. In response, Claimant explained
that on one occasion she brought to the Dean‟s attention a particular student‟s
performance that made the student‟s reentry the following semester impossible, but
he did nothing about it. Claimant testified that she made Mr. Mader aware of the
student‟s status, although it was the Dean of Students‟ responsibility to do so. She
concluded that although their jobs went hand in hand, the Dean of Students “always
seemed as though he was holding information from [her].” N.T. at 11. When the
Referee asked if she had anything further, she said, “I don‟t, no.” N.T. at 11.
Subsequent to Employer‟s witnesses addressing Claimant‟s testimony, the Referee
again asked whether she had “anything additional” to add before he moved to
Employer‟s testimony. N.T. at 11. She responded, “I don‟t think so.” N.T. at 11.
Mr. Mader and Mr. Null testified on Employer‟s behalf. Mr. Mader
stated that Claimant was a very good employee, and that he discussed the incidents
Claimant brought to his attention with the Dean of Students and the HR Director, but
he did not take any severe action because they perceived the incidents as less serious
than Claimant did. Finally, he clarified that he told Claimant that “you can‟t change
people‟s personalities,” not that things would never change. N.T. at 12. Mr. Null‟s
testimony consisted merely of a statement that Claimant did not offer two weeks‟
notice. When the Referee asked Claimant if she had anything additional in light of
Employer‟s evidence, she said no. She also declined to make any closing comments
when offered the opportunity to do so.
The Referee concluded that, although Claimant presented credible
testimony of the existence of personality conflicts with two co-workers, she failed to
demonstrate the existence of a work environment that produced such real and
substantial pressure that would compel a reasonable person to terminate his or her
The UCBR adopted and incorporated the Referee‟s findings and
It is well settled that,
[i]n unemployment compensation proceedings, the [UCBR]
is the ultimate fact finder and is, therefore, entitled to make
its own determinations as to witness credibility and
evidentiary weight. The [UCBR] is free to accept or reject
the testimony of any witness in whole or in part.
McFadden v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 806 A.2d 955, 958 (Pa. Cmwlth.
2002) (citation omitted). Where, as here, substantial evidence supports the UCBR‟s
findings, credibility determinations made by the UCBR are not subject to review by
this Court. Duquesne Light Co. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 648 A.2d
1318 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1994).
The record here supports the UCBR‟s findings. Claimant presented
testimony that, in her three years of employment, she experienced an instance in
which the HR Director may have less than politely told her to handle a situation the
HR Director was at the moment too busy to address; an instance in which the HR
Director criticized Claimant in front of a student, but later apologized; and, one
specific instance and some vague instances in which she was frustrated by the failure
of the Dean of Students to perform his job. We cannot say that these circumstances
created an intolerable work environment for Claimant. Without credited evidence
that Claimant suffered intolerable harassment, there is no support for her claim that
she had a necessitous and compelling reason for quitting her job.
In Claimant‟s brief to this Court, she claims that “it was primarily the
forced falsification of school records” that led to her resignation. Claimant‟s Br. at
10. Specifically, she stated that the Dean of Students falsified student attendance and
grade records and other documents that required her signature. This Court has held
that “[i]f Claimant had a reasonable belief that he was participating in an illegal
activity or if his personal and professional integrity were so jeopardized by the
circumstances, there can be a necessitous and compelling cause to terminate his
employment.” Tom Tobin Wholesale v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 600
A.2d 680, 683 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1991). However, pursuant to Section 504 of the Law, 43
P.S. § 824, where the UCBR does not direct the taking of new evidence, it must
examine the Referee‟s determination based upon evidence submitted before the
Referee. Although raised by Claimant in her appeal of the Referee‟s decision to the
UCBR, no such evidence was presented to the Referee.
Claimant states in her brief that she did not previously present this
In the course of my hearing with the Referee, in a few
instances, when I raised an issue or tried to explain a
situation, he said „You don‟t have to go into all of the
(See page 9, last line of the transcript.)
Unfortunately, he did not come back to those issues and I
was not given the opportunity to give a complete
explanation. I was unaware and naïve as to what the full
nature of the proceedings would entail. I was not fully
informed as to how much specific detail and evidence to
provide pertaining to the incidences at issue.
The Referee . . . did not ask about or give me the
opportunity to discuss and explain the many situations
which lead up to my decision to leave employment.
Claimant‟s Br. at 11-12. She explained: “I was also reluctant to have my former
coworkers testify for fear they might jeopardize their employment.” Claimant‟s Br.
Claimant‟s argument that she was naïve about what she had to do at the
hearing, or that she was purposefully not specific with her reasons for quitting, do not
now provide a sufficient basis on which this Court will reverse the UCBR‟s
determination. First, the record is clear that the Referee provided Claimant with more
than ample opportunity to provide evidence of what she deemed an intolerable or
hostile work environment. Second, in the circumstance referred to by Claimant where
the Referee said she need not go into all of the details, it is clear from the record he
was referring to student names. See N.T. at 9-10. Finally, this Court has long held
that “a layperson who chooses to represent himself in a legal proceeding must assume
the risk that his lack of expertise and legal training may prove to be his undoing.”
Finfinger v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 854 A.2d 636, 639 n.5 (Pa.
Because Claimant has not met her burden of proving that she left her
employment for necessitous and compelling reasons, the UCBR committed no error
of law by affirming the Referee‟s decision. The order of the UCBR is, therefore,
JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge
IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Board of Review,
No. 285 C.D. 2011
AND NOW, this 7th day of September, 2011, the December 13, 2010
order of Unemployment Compensation Board of Review is affirmed.
JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge