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Adams v. Department of Services for Children

Superior Court of Delaware, Sussex

September 5, 2017

Clorice Adams
v.
Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, et al.;

          Date Submitted: July 7, 2017

          Victoria W. Counihan, Esquire, Donna Thompson, Esquire.

         Dear Ms. Adams and Counsel:

         Clorice Adams appeals the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board that concluded Ms. Adams had voluntarily left her employment without good cause connected to her work. The Board's decision is affirmed for the reasons stated below.

         Nature and Stage of the Proceedings

         Ms. Adams was employed by the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families ("DSCYF") as a laundry attendant at Stevenson House in Milford, Delaware, from May or June of 2005[1] until May 31, 2016. A claims deputy reviewed Ms. Adams' claim for unemployment benefits and determined Ms. Adams had left her employment with DSCYF for personal reasons. Ms. Adams appealed this determination and a hearing was set for August 31, 2016, before an Appeals Referee. Ms. Adams failed to appear at the scheduled time and place for the hearing and the Appeals Referee dismissed her appeal. Ms. Adams appealed that decision and the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board ("the Board") accepted Ms. Adams' reason for failing to attend the August 31sthearing and remanded the matter to the Appeals Referee.

         The Appeals Referee held a hearing on October 3, 2016, and subsequently affirmed the claims deputy's determination by way of written decision mailed October 5, 2016. Ms. Adams appealed and the Board held a hearing on November 15, 2016. By way of written decision mailed December 5, 2016, the Board affirmed the Appeals Referee's decision that Ms. Adams is not entitled to unemployment benefits. Ms. Adams filed a timely appeal with this Court and the case is ripe for decision.

         Discussion

         When reviewing a decision of the Board, this Court must determine whether the Board's findings of fact and conclusions of law are free from legal error and are supported by substantial evidence in the record.[2] "Substantial evidence" is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[3] The Court's review is limited: "It is not the appellate court's role to weigh the evidence, determine credibility questions or make its own factual findings, but merely to decide if the evidence is legally adequate to support the agency's factual findings."[4]

         Delaware law provides that an individual will be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if that individual left work "voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work."[5]Claimant bears the burden for demonstrating good cause existed for voluntarily terminating the employment relationship.[6] An undesirable or unsafe situation does not constitute good cause.[7]However, "[g]ood cause can include a substantial reduction in wages, work hours or a substantial deviation in the working conditions from the original agreement of hire to the detriment of the employee."[8] In order to qualify for benefits, an employee must do something akin to exhausting administrative remedies by, for example, giving notice to the employer and seeking to have the situation remedied.[9]

         Leaving a job due to medical problems can constitute good cause if a three part test is satisfied. The claimant must prove: 1) she had an illness at the time she left her job; 2) she left her job involuntarily due to the illness; and 3) that she is generally available to work.[10]

         Before the Appeals Referee, Ms. Adams testified that she had been sick for over a year with various ailments. Her medical treatment providers were unable to determine the underlying cause of her illness. Ms. Adams noticed that she was not sick when she was not at work and concluded that conditions in the laundry room must be the root cause of her symptoms. Ms. Adams testified she told the gentleman who filled in for her at work when she was absent about her symptoms. She stated that there were two other employees to whom she "always complained." Mr. Ward was Ms. Adams' direct supervisor. Mr. Ward was not in attendance at the hearing before the Appeals Referee but Ms. Adams testified she had submitted medical paperwork to Mr. Ward and also told him about her symptoms. Mr. Wicks is the superintendent of the facility. Phalishia Stacy Kincer, Esquire, represented DSCYF at the hearing. She admitted a letter written by Ms. Adams to Mr. Wicks and dated May 31, 2016. In that letter, Ms. Adams refers to a previous letter wherein she gave two weeks' notice. Ms. Adams' May 31st letter also references a doctor's note she submitted to Mr. Wicks two weeks prior.[11] Ms. Adams herself testified she submitted medical documentation to Mr. Wicks two weeks prior to the May 31st letter. However, DSCYF denied that Ms. Adams had either given two weeks' notice or turned in any medical documentation to support her resignation. Ms. Adams admitted she did not submit any medical documentation to the human resources department.

         After Ms. Adams filed her claim for unemployment benefits, her physician completed the Department of Labor's Doctor's Certificate. Ms. Adams' physician did not prohibit Ms. Adams from working but listed her work restrictions as, "no heavy ...


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