A stipulation waiving rights to a disciplinary hearing and agreement to resign from the position may not disqualify the individual for Unemployment Insurance benefits
2017 NY Slip Op 05885, Appellate Division, Third Department
As a general rule, a claimant for unemployment insurance benefits who voluntarily leaves his or her employment without good cause or who engages in disqualifying misconduct is ineligible to receive such benefits.
In contrast, courts have held that "[a] claimant who voluntarily leaves his or her position in the face of disciplinary charges may qualify for unemployment benefits if the actions did not amount to misconduct."* Further, as the court ruled in Matter of Oberman [New York City Dept. of Citywide Admin. Servs.—Commissioner of Labor], 143 AD3d 1022, whether a claimant for unemployment insurance benefits has engaged in disqualifying misconduct "is a factual question for the Board to resolve and its determination will not be disturbed if supported by substantial evidence."
In this case the employee [Claimant], who was in the public service, was confronted with various disciplinary charges over a period of time. Ulimately Claimant and the public employer entered into a "stipulation of settlement" resolving the most recent round of alleged disciplinary infractions.** The stipulation provided that Claimant would waive her right to a Civil Service Law §75 disciplinary hearing and would resign from the position by a specified date. In addition, it was stipulated that Claimant "would be allowed to collect her accrued annual leave and, going forward, would receive a 'neutral reference' from the employer."***
Claimant then filed an application for unemployment insurance benefits. The Department of Labor issued initial administrative determinations disqualifying claimant from receiving benefits upon the grounds that she had voluntarily left her employment without good cause or, in the alternative, lost her employment due to misconduct. Claimant appealed the administrative rulings.
An Unemployment Insurance Administrative Law Judge [ALJ] overruled the initial determinations, finding that Claimant "had good cause to separate from her employment and had not otherwise committed disqualifying misconduct." The ALJ also determined that Claimant "had been subject to a hostile work environment."
Ultimately the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board adopted the ALJ's findings and affirmed the ALJ's decision, rejecting the employer's challenge to the ALJ's ruling granting Claimant unemployment insurance benefits.
The Appellate Division sustained the Board's decision, noting that the stipulation of settlement entered into between Claimant and the employer contained no finding or admission of wrongdoing with respect to the Claimant, holding that the Board credited Claimant's testimony as to the nature of her work environment and her reasons for resigning.
Further, said the court, the Board agreed with the ALJ's findings that Claimant's actions did not rise to the level of disqualifying misconduct but, rather, were undertaken in direct response to her "hostile" and "untenable" work environment — an environment that, in turn, provided her with "a compelling reason for her to resign."
The Appellate Division said that as there was substantial evidence to support the Board's decision regarding Claimant's application for unemployment insurance benefits, "it will not be disturbed notwithstanding the presence of other evidence in the record that could support a contrary conclusion."
** The stipulation of settlement contained no admission of misconduct, and no finding of wrongdoing on the part of Claimant was made.
*** The decision notes that provided that Claimant would be given a "neutral reference" should a prospective employer contact the agency for such a purpose. In contrast, Education Law §1133.1 provides that “[a] school administrator or superintendent shall not make any agreement to withhold from law enforcement authorities, the superintendent or the commissioner, where appropriate, the fact that an allegation of child abuse in an educational setting on the part of any employee or volunteer as required by Article 23-B of the Education Law in return for the resignation or voluntary suspension from his or her position of such person, against whom the allegation is made.
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