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MARY N. JONES v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (12/10/86)

decided: December 10, 1986.

MARY N. JONES, APPELLANT,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BOARD OF REVIEW, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court dated December 12, 1984 at No. 2089 C.D. 1982 affirming the Order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, July 30, 1982, Decision No. B-208528. Pa. Commonwealth Ct. , Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., filed a concurring opinion. Larsen, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Flaherty

[ 513 Pa. Page 46]

OPINION OF THE COURT

We granted the petition for allowance of appeal of Mary N. Jones to consider whether Section 3 of the Unemployment Compensation Law, 43 P.S. § 752, can operate to deny benefits where a teacher is discharged due to failure to secure a teaching certificate.

Mrs. Jones was a certified teacher in the State of New York. Upon becoming employed as a teacher in Pennsylvania, Mrs. Jones was advised that she lacked three college courses necessary for certification in this Commonwealth. In May, 1980, she received an emergency teaching certificate which was valid for the next following school year and

[ 513 Pa. Page 47]

    non-renewable. Mrs. Jones completed two of the three required courses during the summer of 1980, and, due to what she asserts as work pressure and family responsibilities, waited to complete the balance of the coursework during the summer of 1981. However, the last course was not offered locally during the summer of 1981. In late July, Mrs. Jones enrolled in a correspondence course through Louisiana State University, but because of delays in receiving course materials she did not begin the lessons until November 1981. In the meantime, Mrs. Jones applied for a renewed emergency certificate. This renewed emergency certificate was denied by letter dated December 10, 1981, "due to the inadequate rate of progress for completing" the required coursework. Faced with the alternatives of keeping Mrs. Jones employed and suffering a loss in state reimbursement or terminating Mrs. Jones's employment, the School District terminated her on February 5, 1982 due to her failure to obtain a valid teaching certificate.

The referee denied benefits under Section 3 of the Unemployment Compensation Law on the basis that Mrs. Jones was unemployed through her own fault. This decision was affirmed by the Board and Commonwealth Court. 86 Pa. Commw. 405, 485 A.2d 526.

Section 3 of the Unemployment Compensation Law provides:

Economic insecurity due to unemployment is a serious menace to the health, morals, and welfare of the people of the Commonwealth. Involuntary unemployment and its resulting burden of indigency falls with crushing force upon the unemployed worker, and ultimately upon the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions in the form of poor relief assistance. Security against unemployment and the spread of indigency can best be provided by the systematic setting aside of financial reserves to be used as compensation for loss of wages by employes during periods when they become unemployed through no fault of their own. The principle of the accumulation of financial reserves, the sharing of risks, and the payment of

[ 513 Pa. Page 48]

    compensation with respect to unemployment meets the need of protection against the hazards of unemployment and indigency. The Legislature, therefore, declares that in its considered judgment the public good and the general welfare of the citizens of this Commonwealth require the exercise of the police powers of the Commonwealth in the enactment of this act for the compulsory setting aside of unemployment reserves to be used for the benefit of persons unemployed through no fault of their own.

43 P.S. § 752 [Emphasis supplied.] This provision has, since its enactment, provided an independent basis for denying unemployment compensation benefits where claimants were unemployed due to some activity, often wholly unrelated to their work, which nevertheless bore upon their fitness for employment.

In Dept. L. & I. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 148 Pa. Super. 246, 24 A.2d 667 (1942), claimant's unemployment resulted from his conviction and imprisonment for larceny. The theft was not from his employer. In affirming the denial of unemployment compensation benefits, Superior Court stated, "The Declaration of Public Policy [contained in Section 3] negatives the conclusion that one who has lost his employment because of his commission of a crime involving moral turpitude shall receive compensation for the unemployment which resulted from his own criminal act." Id., 148 Pa. Superior Ct. at 248, 24 A.2d at 668. This Court later expressly approved Superior Court's interpretation of Section 3 in Barclay White Co. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 356 Pa. 43, 50 A.2d 336 (1947) cert. denied, 332 U.S. 761, 68 S.Ct. 63, 92 L.Ed. 347 (1947), wherein we quoted Dept. L. & I. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., supra, as follows: "[Section 3] is not a mere preamble to the statute, but a constituent part of it and is to be considered in construing or interpreting it . . . . If it is clear that a person's unemployment is the result of his own fault, he is not eligible for compensation under the Act." Barclay, supra, 356 Pa. at 47, 50 A.2d at 340. [Emphasis supplied.]

[ 513 Pa. Page 49]

Since these declarations by Superior Court and this Court almost forty years ago, Section 3 has repeatedly been held to supply an independent basis for denying unemployment compensation benefits where a claimant's loss of employment resulted from some voluntary activity which related to his ability to perform the work required. See, e.g., Corbacio v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 78 Pa. Commw.Ct. 70, 466 A.2d 1117 (1983) (delivery driver whose driver's license was revoked for several off-the-job speeding violations held not entitled to benefits under Section 3); Huff v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 40 Pa. Commw.Ct. 11, 396 A.2d 94 (1979), affirmed, Smith v. Unemployment Comp. Bd., Etc., 487 Pa. 448, 409 A.2d 854 (1980) (truck driver whose driver's license was suspended for driving, while away from the job, under the influence of intoxicants, held not entitled to benefits under Section 3); Strokes v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 29 Pa. Commw.Ct. 584, 372 A.2d 485 (1977) affirmed, Smith v. Unemployment Comp. Bd., Etc., supra, (truck driver whose driver's license was suspended for failure to satisfy a judgment denied benefits under Section 3); U.C.B.R. v. Ostrander, 21 Pa. Commw.Ct. 583, 347 A.2d 351 (1975) (union truck driver who was convicted of federal charge of conspiracy to interfere with the civil rights of another denied benefits under Section 3).

Mrs. Jones argues that Section 3 cannot supply an independent basis for denying benefits in light of this Court's recent decisions in Local 730 v. Com., Unemp. Comp. Bd., Etc., 505 Pa. 480, 480 A.2d 1000 (1984); LeGare v. Com., Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 498 Pa. 72, 444 A.2d 1151 (1982) and Penn Hills Sch. Dist. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 496 Pa. 620, 437 A.2d 1213 (1981). However, none of these cases involved an application of Section 3.

Local 730 in no way implicated application of Section 3. There the question was whether union employees were locked out or on strike for the purpose of application of Section 402(d), 43 P.S. 802(d), of the Unemployment Compensation Law.

[ 513 Pa. Page 50]

Act, as declared in section 3, is . . . 'to aid those individuals who, through no fault of their own, face the grim prospect of unemployment.'" Id., quoting Richards v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR), 491 Pa. 162, 169, 420 A.2d 391, 395 (1980). Moreover, as demonstrated by forty years of case law, Section 3 provides an explicit exclusion of benefits in cases where persons are unemployed through their own fault. Thus, Penn Hills does not represent a departure from the well settled rule that persons who are unemployed through their own fault are not entitled to unemployment compensation benefits.

Next Mrs. Jones argues that persons who are unemployed for work related reasons should only be denied benefits if their conduct constitutes "willful misconduct" as provided in Section 402(e), 43 P.S. § 802(e). We reject this argument. Most, if not all, persons who have been denied benefits under Section 3 of the Unemployment Compensation Law were discharged because somehow their voluntary actions impugned their ability to do their work. Some were incarcerated and thus unable to report to work, Smith v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 29 Pa. Commw.Ct. 292, 370 A.2d 822 (1977), affirmed 487 Pa. 448, 409 A.2d 854 (1980); many lost driver's licenses which were necessary for them to perform their work, see, e.g., Huff v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., supra; still others may have simply demonstrated criminal tendencies which their employer justifiably found undesirable, see, e.g., Dept. L. & I. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd., supra (employee convicted of larceny). It is clear that activity which does not rise to the level of "willful misconduct" may nevertheless constitute fault under Section 3. Mrs. Jones's argument invites us to ignore the fault provision of Section 3, and we decline to do so.

Finally, Mrs. Jones argues she was not at fault. "Fault" involves a voluntary act to which blame attaches. Strokes v. Unemp. Comp. Bd. Rev., supra. It connotes some causal connection between a claimant's voluntary action and ...


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