Brown v. Workforce Appeals Board

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Brown v. Workforce Appeals Board. Filed September 10, 1999 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS


Debra L. Brown,


Workforce Appeals Board,

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 990440-CA

September 10, 1999
  1999 UT App 258 -----

Original Proceeding in this Court

Debra L. Brown, Salt Lake City, Petitioner Pro Se
Suzan Pixton, Salt Lake City, for Respondent


Before Judges Wilkins, Billings, and Jackson.


Petitioner Debra Brown seeks judicial review of a decision of the Workforce Appeals Board affirming the denial of unemployment benefits on the grounds that she voluntarily quit her employment without good cause. The petition is before the court on a sua sponte motion for summary affirmance.

Brown opposes summary disposition of the petition, and also affirmatively seeks both an award of unemployment benefits and of "punitive damages" against the Board. Punitive damages are not available as a remedy in proceedings to recover unemployment compensation, and we do not consider that claim.

Unemployment compensation benefits are generally not available to assist employees who voluntarily leave their employment. Benefits are available only if the employee quit with good cause that justified terminating employment prior to securing substitute employment. Brown's assertions that she was "forced to quit" by the employer are not supported by the record and were not presented by counsel for consideration at the hearing.

Brown does not challenge the findings of fact by demonstrating that the findings are "not supported by substantial evidence when viewed in light of the whole record before the court." Utah Code Ann. § 63-46b-16(4)(g)(1997). We therefore accept the findings of fact as adopted by the Board. Utah Code Ann. § 35A-4-405(1)(a)(1997) states that a person is ineligible for benefits if that person "left work voluntarily without good cause, if so found by the division. . . ." To the extent a petitioner challenges the Board's conclusion that she voluntarily left her employment without good cause, "we defer to the agency and we will not overturn its decisions regarding voluntariness and good cause unless we determine it has abused that discretion." Robinson v. Department of Employment Security, 827 P.2d 250, 252 (Utah Ct. App. 1992). Brown's claim that she was forced to quit by the employer to accomplish a reduction of force or for other reasons is not supported by the facts as found by the Board. Moreover, petitioner did not properly preserve this claim by pursuing it in the agency proceedings. The Board did not abuse its discretion in concluding the quit was voluntary. "Good cause is established if continuance of the employment would have had an adverse effect on the claimant which could not be controlled or prevented and necessitated immediate severance of the employment relationship . . . ." Utah Code Admin. P. R994-405-102(1). "The separation must have been motivated by circumstances which made continuance of the employment a hardship or matter of real concern sufficiently adverse to a reasonable person to outweigh the benefits of remaining employed." Id. Brown did not demonstrate an adverse effect that necessitated immediate severance of her employment. The primary reason alleged for the quit was the issue regarding insurance. This issue had been effectively resolved by recission of the coverage effective in January, but was a continuing source of resentment. Although the situation remained troubling to Brown, it did not require her to immediately quit. Even the precipitating event, i.e., the request for a doctor's note, did not justify the quit without engaging in further discussion as offered by the employer. Petitioner's remaining issues regarding alleged harassment, workload issues, and discriminatory treatment were not brought to the attention of the employer before the quit. Accordingly, the Board did not abuse its discretion in finding the quit was not with good cause.

The Board may make an award of benefits "[w]hen the circumstances of the quit were not sufficiently compelling to justify an allowance of benefits for good cause, but there are mitigating circumstances, and a denial of benefits would be unreasonably harsh or an affront to fairness . . . ." Utah Code Admin. P. R994-405-103. We conclude that the Board did not abuse its discretion in declining to apply the exception to the good cause requirement.

Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Workforce Appeals Board.

Michael J. Wilkins,
Presiding Judge

Judith M. Billings, Judge

Norman H. Jackson, Judge