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Rodriguez v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

September 7, 2017

Elise Rodriguez, Petitioner
v.
Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, Respondent

          Argued: June 5, 2017

          BEFORE: HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE JOSEPH M. COSGROVE, Judge

          OPINION

          P. KEVIN BROBSON, JUDGE

         Petitioner Elise Rodriguez (Claimant) petitions for review of an order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (Board). The Board affirmed the Referee's decision and order denying Claimant Unemployment Compensation benefits pursuant to Section 402(b) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law), relating to voluntarily leaving work without cause of a necessitous and compelling nature.[1] For the reasons set forth below, we now affirm the Board's order.

         Claimant worked for Quakertown Pain and Rehab (Employer) as a full-time Office Manager. (Certified Record (C.R.), Item No. 8 at 2.) Claimant voluntarily separated from Employer on December 24, 2015, in order to relocate to Florida with her spouse, who had accepted a full tuition scholarship to attend a school in Florida. Claimant subsequently filed for unemployment compensation benefits on January 13, 2016. (C.R., Item No. 3.) The Altoona Unemployment Compensation Service Center (Service Center) issued a determination, finding Claimant ineligible for benefits for failing to show a necessitous and compelling reason for terminating her employment. (C.R., Item No. 4.) Claimant appealed the Service Center's determination, and a Referee conducted an evidentiary hearing. (C.R., Item No. 5.)

         At the hearing before the Referee, Employer elected not to appear. Claimant, however, appeared without counsel and testified that she voluntarily terminated her employment in order to relocate to Florida with her spouse. (Id. at 2.) Prior to making that decision, Claimant testified that her spouse had been unsuccessful at obtaining local employment due to his criminal background. (Id. at 3.) In light of those circumstances, Claimant stated that the couple's church presented her spouse with a scholarship to attend a theological school in Tampa, Florida. (Id.) Given the distance between Florida and Pennsylvania, Claimant testified that she considered staying in Pennsylvania with their children while her spouse commuted to Florida, but that was not feasible. (Id.) According to Claimant, that type of arrangement was against the school's religious principles, as it did not believe in separating families. (Id.) As a result, Claimant stated that the entire family had to relocate to Florida so that her spouse could accept the scholarship. (Id.)

         Following the hearing, the Referee issued a decision, affirming the Service Center's determination, thereby finding Claimant ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to Section 402(b) of the Law. (C.R., Item No. 9.) The Referee determined that Claimant and her family made a personal choice to accept the church's scholarship and prospective employment offer, [2] which did not constitute a necessitous and compelling reason under the Law.[3] (Id.)

         Claimant appealed to the Board, which, in turn, remanded the matter to the Referee. (C.R., Item Nos. 10, 13.) On remand, the Board instructed the Referee to conduct a hearing for the purpose of gathering additional information regarding the merits of the case. (C.R., Item No. 12.) Specifically, the Board solicited the following information:

1. How long was the claimant's husband unemployed before accepting the offer of employment in Florida?
2. After losing his job, what efforts did the claimant's husband make to obtain employment locally in order to remain in Pennsylvania?
3. What is the claimant's salary or hourly wages at his new job in Florida?
4. If hourly, how many hours per week is the claimant's husband working?
5. What were the claimant's husband's wages at his prior job?

(Id.) At the remand hearing, Claimant appeared before the Referee along with counsel and her husband. Claimant's husband, Miguel Caballero, testified that he worked as a certified forklift operator and also had a Class A driver's license. (C.R., Item No. 16 at 4.) Much of his employment, he testified, was irregular, as there were times in which he was unemployed up to a year. (Id.) Moreover, Mr. Caballero stated that he was unable to obtain permanent employment with any of his temporary jobs because he could not pass background checks. (Id. at 4-5.) He attributed these unsuccessful efforts to his criminal history. (Id.) Nonetheless, Mr. Caballero testified that he persisted by contacting his temporary staffing agency, as well as other temporary staffing agencies, on a weekly basis seeking employment opportunities. (Id. at 4.) According to Mr. Caballero, employers continually rejected his solicitations, which prompted him to start his own business. (Id. at 4-5.) That venture ultimately failed. (Id. at 4.)

         Mr. Caballero testified that his church presented him with an opportunity to attend a theological school on a full tuition scholarship. (Id. at 6-7.) Although the school was located in Tampa, Florida, Mr. Caballero stated that he accepted the opportunity. (Id. at 6.) The school, however, would only allow him to attend on the condition that he move to Florida with his entire family, as it did not believe in separating families. (Id.) Furthermore, according to Mr. Caballero, there was a good prospect of full-time employment as a minister following the completion of the ministerial program. (Id. at 7.) He explained that he would receive his bachelor's degree when he finished. (Id.) Finally, Mr. Caballero testified that, while in Florida, he found part-time work that paired well with his full-time course load, and Claimant briefly testified that she had sought suitable work in Florida but had been unable to obtain such employment. (Id. at 6, 10.)

         Following the remand hearing, the Board found as follows:

1. Quakertown Pain and Rehab, P.C. employed the claimant from May 8, 2013, through December 24, 2015, as an office manager earning $30, 000 annually.
2. The claimant's husband is a certified forklift operator; he also has a Class A driver's license.
3. During 2015, the claimant's husband worked for a temporary staffing agency as a truck driver ...

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