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Johnston v. Chrysler Corp.

Supreme Court of Delaware

February 19, 1962

Ralph P. JOHNSTON, Appellant,
CHRYSLER CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, and Albert Stetser, William Bodenstedt, Homer H. Pepper and Wilbert Rawley, composing the Unemployment Compensation Commission of the State of Delaware, Appellees.

Page 460

William T. Lynam, III, Wilmington, for appellant.

Joseph H. Geoghegan, of Berl, Potter & Anderson, Wilmington, for appellees.

SOUTHERLAND, C. J., WOLCOTT, J., and TERRY, President Judge, sitting.

WOLCOTT, Justice (for the majority of the Court).

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court affirming a denial by the Unemployment Compensation Commission of benefits to the claimant. The ground upon which benefits were denied was that the claimant had disqualified himself under 19 Del.C. § 3315(3), by his refusal to accept an offer of work.

[54 Del. 281] Claimant, an unmarried man, was employed by Chrysler at its Defense Plant, Newark, Delaware, continuously from October 25, 1957 to September 28, 1960, when he was laid off because of lack of work. At the time of the layoff claimant was living in the vicinity of Newark, but several days thereafter moved back to the home of his parents in Berwick, Pennsylvania, approximately 135 miles distant from Newark. At the time of his layoff and at the time of the receipt by him of a notice to report for interview, claimant owned an automobile presumably available for use by him to travel between Berwick, Pennsylvania, and Newark, Delaware, to be interviewed.

On October 14, 1960 Chrysler's Employment Supervisor at its Assembly Plant at Newark (not the Defense Plant) mailed to claimant at Berwick the following notice:

'Report to the Employment office for interview at 9:30 A.M., Tuesday, October 18, 1960. Please bring * * * Social Security card and this card with you.'

Claimant, at the time of his layoff, was a member of the United Automobile Workers of America, which had a work contract with Chrysler. Under this contract Chrysler was required to offer work in its Assembly Plant to its former Defense Plant employees before it hired any new employees from the street. As a former employee of Chrysler at its Defense Plant and as a member of the Union, claimant is charged with knowledge of this work contract and its provisions. Claimant, however, failed to report for the interview.

At the time the notice was sent to claimant Chrysler was increasing the number of employees at its Assembly Plant, and if claimant had reported for the interview he would have been offered a job of the type performed by him at the Defense Plant and with probably no reduction in pay. The precise nature of the job which would have been offered him is not specified in the record.

[54 Del. 282] At the hearing before the Referee claimant testified that he did not report for his interview for the reason that he knew the employees at the Assembly Plant had not been working a full five-day week, and that he could live better at his parents' home even though employed in that area at less pay than he could working for Chrysler for less than a full five-day week. He further testified that he would not work at Chrysler's Assembly Plant unless he had reasonable assurance of working a 40-hour week. He further stated that Chrysler should have made him a job offer at the time of his layoff rather than permit him to move and then call him back. He described this action as 'unreasonable'.

Claimant, in a letter to the Commission prior to his hearing before the Claims Deputy,

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stated that he intended to reside permanently at Berwick, Pennsylvania, and that he was actively seeking employment in that area. It appears that he had applied for any type of work to fourteen different possible employers in the Berwick area, but it does not appear from the record what the employment possibilities of that area were.

The first hearing on the right of claimant to unemployment compensation was before the Claims Deputy who ruled that claimant had not refused an offer to work and was therefore entitled to benefits. Chrysler appealed to the Appeals Referee who heard testimony and held that claimant had refused an offer of work and was therefore disqualified for benefits. Claimant thereupon appealed to the Commission but failed to appear at the hearing. The Commission affirmed the decision of the Appeals Referee denying benefits, and the claimant appealed to the Superior Court which, without opinion, held, presumably on the authority of Jewell v. Stetser, Del.Super., 174 A.2d 31 (now pending before us on appeal) that claimant was disqualified for benefits because he had refused an 'offer of work' within the meaning of 19 Del.C. § 3315(3).

[54 Del. 283] One question only is presented for our decision, viz., is the claimant disqualified for benefits because his refusal to appear at Chrysler's employment office for interview in response to the notice sent and received by him is to be regarded under the statute as the refusal of an offer of work?

By 19 Del.C. § 3314, an unemployed individual becomes eligible for benefits under the statute if he has registered for work, has made a claim for benefits, is able to work, is available for work, and is actively seeking work. These statutory requirements must be met as conditions precedent to the receipt of any benefits under the statute.

Once this eligibility has been established it may be lost, however, if any of the disqualifications of 19 Del.C. § 3315 are found to exist. One of these disqualifications, that of 19 Del.C. § 3315(3), concerns us in this appeal. That sub-section disqualifies a claimant for benefits 'if he has refused to accept an offer of work for which he is reasonably fitted.'

We assume that this claimant has satisfied the eligibility requirements of 19 Del.C. § 3314. No argument has been made before us that such is not the case, although we are not so clear that the claimant's refusal to come to Newark for the purpose of interview knowing that it would result in the offer of a job might not be argued to be an indication that the claimant was not satisfying the requirement of 19 Del.C. § 3314(3) that he be 'actively seeking work'. We pass the point by, however, since it has not been raised.

Our question is whether, under the circumstances, the notice sent claimant was an 'offer of work' within the meaning of 19 Del.C. § 3315(3). On its face, of course, the notice is nothing more than a direction to the claimant to report to Chrysler's employment office for interview. It does not refer to a particular job, to rate of pay, hours of work, or to the other conditions of employment. We would suppose, therefore,[54 Del. 284] that none would disagree that, alone, the notice did not in a legal sense constitute an 'offer of work'.

But this notice did not stand alone. Of prime importance is the fact that throughout the period in question there was in existence a work contract between Chrysler and the United Automobile Workers, a Union of which the claimant was and, we presume, is a member. As such, he is charged with notice of the existence of the contract and of its provisions.

A copy of the work contract is not in the record before us. It is, however, a matter of common knowledge that work contracts entered into between employers and an industry-wide Union customarily fix working conditions, rates of pay, hours of work, seniority among employees, and many other matters as between employer

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and employee. Indeed, by definition, these are the matters embraced within a collective bargaining or work contract between employer and the Union. 31 Am.Jur., Labor, § 90. This being so, the general nature of the existing work contract between Chrysler and the claimant's Union is a proper matter for judicial notice. 20 Am.Jur., Evidence, §§ 16, 18, 27.

Furthermore, in Jewell v. Stetser, supra, now pending before us on appeal, involving a claim for unemployment brought by a fellow worker of this claimant who was laid off at the same time and recalled in the same manner by Chrysler on the same day, the general nature of the work contract between Chrysler and the Union is spelled out more fully in the testimony. From the record in the Jewell appeal it is apparent that the work contract in question covered the matters commonly known to be covered by such contracts. The facts of the Jewell case were referred to in the argument before us in this appeal. We think there is no doubt but that we may judicially notice those facts. Wilmington Parking authority v. Burton, Del., 157 A.2d 894.

[54 Del. 285] We think the fact to be, therefore, that the contract between Chrysler and the Union, generally speaking, covered working conditions, rates of pay, hours of work, seniority, and many other related matters. It is immaterial for the purposes of this appeal what the precise provisions were. The important fact is that those matters were all governed by the contract provisions.

All of these contract provisions were known to the claimant, or at least he is chargeable with knowledge of them. Furthermore, from the claimant's own testimony before the Referee it is clear that he realized the notice sent to him by Chrysler was sent pursuant to the requirements of that contract, and that if he responded to it he would no doubt be offered a job. He further knew that at this time Chrysler was engaged in hiring additional employees, both from friends and a brother-in-law who worked at the Assembly Plant in Newark.

We think the conclusion inescapable that claimant knew upon receipt of the notice to report for an interview that he was being offered work by Chrysler. To be sure, he did not know the precise job being offered him, but that he could have learned by reporting for the interview. If, at the interview, the job offered was reasonably fitted, he would thereupon be obligated to accept it or bear the consequences under the statute of having refused work.

In a general or broad sense, therefore, we think the notice sent by Chrysler to claimant, under the circumstances of this case, was an offer by Chrysler to the claimant, not of a specific job, but of work, the precise nature of which would be known later. Whether or not claimant would have been obligated to accept the job offered depends, of course, upon its nature and whether he was reasonably fitted for it. Claimant, ...

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