Monday, November 22, 2010

UC - vol. quit - retirement package; pro se claimant

Smithley v. UCBR - Cmwlth. Court - Nov. 22, 2010

voluntary retirement
Under Section 402(b) of the Law, an individual is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits if her unemployment is due to “voluntarily leaving work without cause of necessitous and compelling nature….” 43 P.S. §802(b). “Necessitous and compelling cause” occurs under circumstances where there is a real and substantial pressure to terminate one’s employment that would compel a reasonable person to do so. See Renda v. UCBR, 837 A.2d 685, 691-92 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003)(citing McCarthy v. UCBR, 829 A.2d 1266, 1270 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003)). If an employee voluntarily terminates her employment then she has the burden of proving that the termination was necessitous and compelling. Renda, 837 A.2d at 692 (citing Mansberger v. UCBR, 785 A.2d 126 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001)).

Our Court has previously considered whether a claimant who voluntarily resigns when faced with a workforce reduction is entitled to unemployment benefits. We stated that

[i]n the context of corporate downsizing, the critical inquiry is whether the fact-finder determined the circumstances surrounding a claimant’s voluntary quit indicated a likelihood that fears about the employee’s employment would materialize, that serious impending threats to her job would be realized, and that her belief her job is imminently threatened is well founded. . . . “[S]peculation pertaining to an employer’s financial condition and future layoffs, however disconcerting, does not establish the requisite necessitous and compelling cause.” . . . [W]here at the time of retirement suitable continuing work is available, the employer states that a layoff is possible . . . and no other factors are found . . . that remove an employee’s beliefs from the realm of speculation, a claim for unemployment benefits fails despite the offer to leave. Renda, 837 A.2d at 692 (footnote and citations omitted).

As the Board points out, in Claimant’s case Employer did not tell Claimant that she would be laid off or terminated if she did not accept the early retirement package. Employer was willing to allow the first five interested employees to accept it. By Claimant’s own admission, continuing employment would have been available to her because of her seniority had she not accepted the package. Any concerns Claimant may have had about being laid off were purely speculative and unsupported by the record. Though Claimant maintains that she would never have voluntarily quit her job of 43 years, her belief that she is entitled to unemployment benefits is based upon a misunderstanding of the law. Under this Court’s jurisprudence, she voluntarily quit when she resigned from her position to accept a completely voluntary early retirement package.

Pro se claimant -- The Board asks us to quash Claimant’s brief for failure to comply with the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. While the Board is correct that Claimant’s brief does not comply with the appellate rules, we decline to quash the brief and dismiss her appeal because she is proceeding pro se and we are able to discern the legal issues raised. Moreover, this Court is generally inclined to construe pro se filings liberally. See Robinson v. Schellenberg, 729 A.2d 122, 124 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999).