Unemployment insurance exists to provide a safety net for those who become unemployed through no fault of their own. It has proven to be an invaluable lifeline for millions of people across the country and in the state of New Jersey. When individuals apply for these benefits, their claim sometimes requires consideration by the Department of Labor to determine their eligibility. A recent denial of benefits — and an appellate court confirmation of that decision — has called New Jersey’s decision process into question, and in January attorney Alan H. Schorr will be arguing as amicus on behalf of the former employee at the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The case involved Clarence Haley, a maintenance worker at Garden State Laboratories, Inc., who was wrongly arrested on December 14th, 2017 and charged with five separate warrants, including kidnapping, robbery, burglary, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Despite asserting his innocent, he was denied pretrial release. Knowing that he would be unable to report to work, Mr. Haley asked his mother to contact his employer to explain what had happened and to ask them to hold his job for him pending his release. Despite having described Mr. Haley as “hardworking, conscientious and enthusiastic,” his position was filled within one week and his employment was terminated.
As troubling as these events were, what followed raises even more concerns. In response to losing his job Mr. Haley applied for unemployment benefits, but his request was denied by the Department of Labor. The agency’s cited reason for their denial? That he had voluntarily left his job due to personal reasons. This decision was confirmed by the Appellate Division. Neither the appeals court nor the Department of Labor veered from the position that Mr. Haley had left his employment voluntarily despite his termination coming as a result of wrongful incarceration. Alan H. Schorr of Schorr & Associates will be representing the National Employment Lawyers Association – New Jersey at the New Jersey Supreme Court, arguing as Amicus that the decision should be reversed.
According to a brief submitted to the court by Mr. Schorr, the decision as it stands represents a “gross miscarriage of justice” that conflates an innocent man who was removed from his home and jailed with him having “voluntarily left work.” He points out both that his company had terminated the relationship and that the original charges against Mr. Haley had been dropped once it was determined that no probable cause had existed for his arrest in the first place. Despite this, the Department of Labor and the Appellate Division based their decision on an amendment that mandated disqualification of benefits if an employee “left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work” and applied inappropriate case law involving people whose own behavior had contributed to their arrests to support the decision.
In his brief to the court, Mr. Schorr points out that by denying Mr. Haley unemployment benefits based on a case of mistaken identity, New Jersey establishes itself as the only state in the country that allows victims of wrongful incarceration to be denied unemployment benefits. The oral argument will take on Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 10:00 a.m., and will be broadcast live at https://njcourts.gov/public/webcast.html.