decided: June 22, 1976.
UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BOARD OF REVIEW OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
BENJAMIN COOPER, APPELLANT
Appeal from the Order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review in case of In Re: Claim of Benjamin Cooper, No. B-126906.
Norman H. Stein, with him Charlotte V. Neagle, for appellant.
Charles G. Hasson, Assistant Attorney General, with him Sydney Reuben, Assistant Attorney General, and Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for appellee.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Mencer and Rogers, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer. Judge Kramer did not participate in the decision in this case.
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 257]
Benjamin Cooper (claimant), a resident of the City of Philadelphia, was recruited by the Buck Hill Falls Co. (employer) to work in a resort not far from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Claimant worked for approximately three months as a utilityman and earned
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 258]
a salary of $266 a month plus room and board. On or about October 5, 1974, claimant left his job under circumstances which we will discuss in detail later in this opinion.
On February 2, 1975,*fn1 claimant applied for unemployment compensation and was denied benefits for the waiting week ending February 8, 1975 and the compensable week ending February 15, 1975. He then filed a timely appeal requesting a referee's hearing. Two hearings were held, the first on March 10, 1975, in Philadelphia, at which claimant appeared, and the second on April 4, 1975, in Stroudsburg, at which a representative of the employer appeared. The referee, after reviewing the transcripts of both hearings, affirmed the denial of benefits. The Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (Board) affirmed the referee without taking additional evidence.
Throughout the administrative process, the reason given for the denial of benefits was that claimant was ineligible for benefits under Section 402(b)(1) of the Unemployment Compensation Law*fn2 (Act) which provides in part:
"An employe shall be ineligible for compensation for any week --
"(b)(1) In which his unemployment is due to voluntarily leaving work without cause of a necessitous and compelling nature. . . ."
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 259]
The claimant, of course, bears the burden of proving that his reasons for leaving work were of a necessitous and compelling nature. Unemployment Compensation Page 259} Board of Review v. Kapsch, 18 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 456, 336 A.2d 652 (1975).
When the decision of the Board is against the party having the burden of proof, our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether or not the findings of fact are consistent with each other and with its conclusions of law and whether they can be sustained without a capricious disregard of competent evidence. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review v. Gochenauer, 21 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 23, 342 A.2d 504 (1975). A capricious disregard of competent evidence occurs when there is a deliberate disregard of competent testimony which one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching the result. Sherred v. Pittsburgh, 7 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 401, 299 A.2d 381 (1973). Our study of the record convinces us that the Board capriciously disregarded competent evidence in making its findings of fact. We find that the Board also erred by adopting the referee's findings based solely on hearsay testimony. We therefore reverse.
For the purpose of our discussion, we will consider separately each of the hearings held before the referees. At the first hearing, claimant testified that he had left work because his immediate supervisor*fn3 refused to aid him when claimant requested help because he was suffering from an abscessed tooth. Claimant testified that he asked for and was denied a ride to a dentist in the vicinity of the resort, that he was forced to walk to the dentist, and that his supervisor, although requested, did not aid him in returning from the dentist. In addition, claimant testified that he informed his supervisor that the dentist advised claimant to rest in bed for 24 hours following the extraction
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 260]
of his tooth. Claimant asserted that his supervisor responded by telling him to work his regular night shift or be fired. Claimant stated that he worked the shift because he was afraid of being put off the grounds, as others had been, in an unfamiliar and sparsely populated area devoid of public transportation. He further testified that he left the following day because of his treatment by his supervisor and because he was afraid that any further injury or discomfort would be treated in similar fashion.
This testimony standing alone, if believed by the referee, would, in our view, support a conclusion that appellant left his employment for reasons consistent with ordinary common sense and prudence, being based on real, substantial, and reasonable factors which are not imaginary, trifling, or whimsical -- in short, reasons of a necessitous and compelling nature. United States Steel Corporation v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 18 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 71, 333 A.2d 807 (1975).
We recognize that a referee is not required to accept as true even uncontroverted testimony. Edelman v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 10 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 275, 310 A.2d 707 (1973). However, a claimant's testimony as to facts within his actual knowledge does qualify as competent evidence.
The referee's findings of fact read as follows:
"1. Claimant was last employed by Buck Hill Falls Co. for three months as a Utilityman at $266.00 per month, plus maintenance. His last day of work was October 7, 1974.
"2. Claimant voluntarily left this employment without giving any reason or notice to the employer.
"3. Prior to leaving, there is no evidence that claimant requested medical assistance for an alleged toothache or transportation to get to and from the dentist, which would have been available.
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 261]
"4. Claimant failed to request a leave of absence.
"5. Claimant was not laid off or discharged and continuing work was available had he chosen to remain employed." (Emphasis added.)
Clearly, finding of fact 3 shows a capricious disregard, as opposed to a mere disbelief of claimant's testimony. Also, in making finding of fact 4, the referee obviously did not consider whether claimant's purported request for a 24-hour recuperation period constituted a request for a leave of absence which was denied.
Findings 2 through 5 are based on testimony received during the second hearing held in Stroudsburg, at which Mrs. Carroll, the employer's personnel director, testified. Neither counsel for claimant nor claimant's supervisor was present, but during a recess in the hearing the referee allowed Mrs. Carroll to telephone the supervisor in order to obtain information regarding the alleged conversations between the supervisor and claimant. As a substitute for the sworn testimony of the only other person with personal knowledge of the events surrounding claimant's departure, this was grossly deficient. We have often held that in situations where the employer's testimony is crucial, such testimony should have been compelled by the referee. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review v. Stiles, 19 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 38, 340 A.2d 594 (1975).
The testimony of Mrs. Carroll, based as it was on a telephone conversation, is the most obvious form of hearsay. While it is true that hearsay, unobjected to, may be given its natural probative effect in an administrative hearing, Pellegrino v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 8 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 486, 303 A.2d 875 (1973), it is equally true that findings based solely on hearsay cannot stand. Bickling v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review,
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 26217]
Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 619, 333 A.2d 519 (1975). The only evidence in the record which supports findings of fact 2 through 4 is based on Mrs. Carroll's representation of the supervisor's answers to her questions during the telephone conversation. Mrs. Carroll admittedly had no personal knowledge of the incidents leading to claimant's leaving work.*fn4 In view
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 263]
of the capricious disregard of claimant's testimony in this case and the lack of competent evidence to support the referee's findings, we are compelled to reverse.
[ 25 Pa. Commw. Page 264]
Claimant also raises questions regarding the constitutionality of the procedures followed in this case; however, we find it unnecessary to reach those questions at this time.
We therefore make the following
Now, this 22nd day of June, 1976, the order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review in the above named case is reversed. The record is remanded to the Board for disposition consistent with this opinion.
Judge Kramer did not participate in the decision in this case.
Reversed and remanded.