Thursday, March 15, 2007

Scherer Tax Service, Inc. v. Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed March 14, 2007. Opinion by Judge James P. Salmon.

In an appeal from a decision below that an unemployment insurance claimant had "good cause" under Section 8-1005(a)(2) of the Employment Article to reject a full-time, suitable but seasonal (lasting only twelve weeks) offer of employment, the Court of Appeals REVERSED and REMANDED to the Board of Appeals for entry of an order consistent with the opinion.

The appellant ("STS") had employed a full-time receptionist ("Long") during the 2004 tax season, but laid her off at the end of the season. In early 2005, Long began receiving unemployment compensation. Less than two weeks later, STS offered Long her old job back, which was full-time employment, at a higher pay, but limited to the duration of the "tax season" of approximately 12 weeks. Long rejected the offer, opting to continue to look for long-term full-time employment instead.

In February, STS notified the appellee ("DLLR") of Long's refusal, and in May a DLLR claims specialist determined that STS had failed to timely notify DLLR, and thus Long was not disqualified to receive unemployment benefits. STS appealed, and in June a DLLR hearing examiner ruled that STS had timely notified DLLR, but that Long had good cause to reject STS's offer, was able, available and actively seeking work, and thus remained eligible to receive benefits. STS appealed to the Board of Appeals, which after a brief remand to take additional evidence concerning the duration and extent of Long's job search, affirmed the "good cause" determination and eligibility. STS then filed two petitions in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, both of which were rejected, and this appeal followed.

Noting the deference due to the agency's construction of the statute that it administers and that it may not reject the Board's finding unless it was wrong as a matter of law, the court then discussed the history and purpose of the unemployment compensation statute.

The phrase "good cause" is not defined in the statute or in the statutes of neighboring states, and the DLLR hearing examiner and Board of Appeals had both relied on the Board's earlier decision in Gallagher v. Goodfriend Temporaries. DLLR admitted that Gallagher was not on all fours with the instant case, and the court found DLLR had read Gallagher far too broadly, being a case where the employment offered was sporadic and at less than half the previous salary.

The court also noted that DLLR had not claimed the employment offered was unsuitable. Unlike cases in other states, Long's unemployment period had extended for over four months, advising against a finding of "good cause" that might otherwise be found had the unemployment been brief. In examining those cases, the court found that a claimant must offer her services unequivocally, whether the employment offered is temporary or permanent. Consequently, the court held that an ordinary reasonable individual would not have turned down the offer of seasonal empoyment made by STS, since the duties were identical to her last employment and the pay greater, and therefore found the Board had erred in not disqualifying Long.

This opinion is available in PDF format.

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