Alan Schorr’s Employment Case of The Week ending July 10, 2015

Goryn v. Board of Review, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1613 (NJ Appellate Division, July 6, 2015)

It is a very rare occurrence for the New Jersey Appellate Courts to declare a statute to be applicable retroactively, but it happened this week in Goryn v. Board of Review.  The statute in question was a recent amendment to the unemployment disqualification statute, which was enacted in order to correct a longstanding problem.

Over the past two decades we have been terribly frustrated by the disqualification of employees who have not voluntarily left the work force.  This loophole in the law became known to unemployment practitioners as “the Black Hole”.  Typically, the Black Hole occurred when an employee voluntarily quit a lower paying or part-time job to accept a higher paying or full-time job.  The statute, N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) provided, without exception, that an employee who voluntarily left work would be disqualified for benefits until the employee worked at least eight weeks and earned at least ten times the individual’s weekly benefit rate.  Sometimes that new job didn’t work out or the business unexpectedly closed within the first eight weeks and the employee found themselves unemployed and disqualified for benefits even though they never voluntarily left the workforce.

On May 4, 2015, Governor Christie signed the Bill that repaired the Black Hole by creating an exception to the voluntary leaving statute.  We had fought hard for this amendment.  I testified before the Senate Labor Committee and brought a client who had been a victim of this loophole.  NELA-NJ also supported the amendment.  The testimony resulted in an amendment to the Bill to ensure that employees who gave notice to their previous employers and were immediately terminated would not be disqualified.  The new amendment to the statute states:

This subsection shall not apply to an individual who voluntarily leaves work with one employer to accept from another employer employment which commences not more than seven days after the individual leaves employment with the first employer, if the employment with the second employer has weekly hours or pay not less than the hours or pay of the employment of the first employer.

Malgorzata M. Goryn had been working two part-time housekeeping jobs, each paying $200 per week.  She quit those jobs to take a full-time job as a manager at Arby’s paying $600 per week.  Arby’s terminated Ms. Goren after two days, but apparently not for misconduct.  She applied for unemployment benefits but was caught in the Black Hole and was denied benefits.  She appealed pro se all the way up to the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division reversed.  Although Ms. Goryn was terminated in April 2013 and the statute did not take effect until May 2015, the Court found that the purpose of the statute is “to provide some income for the worker earning nothing because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own.”  The Court declared that, being curative in nature, the amendment shall be applied retroactively to this and other cases presently on direct appeal or in which a final judgment has not been entered.

This amendment was long overdue and it is gratifying that the Court chose to apply the amendment retroactively.  It is the first good piece of Legislative news that the unemployed have had in a long time.

Appellant’s Counsel: Malgorzata M. Goryn, pro se.

Respondent’s Counsel: Lewis A. Scheindlin and Brady Montalbano Connaughton, DAGs, for John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General.

Judges: Ashrafi and O’Connor.

Opnion: Per Curiam.