Dohoney v. Director of Division of Employment Sec.

Decision Date15 February 1979
Citation377 Mass. 333,386 N.E.2d 10
PartiesEileen K. DOHONEY v. DIRECTOR OF the DIVISION OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY et al.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

George J. Mahanna, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the Director of the Division of Employment Sec.

Michael J. DeGregorio, Pittsfield, for plaintiff.

Before HENNESSEY, C. J., and BRAUCHER, KAPLAN, LIACOS and ABRAMS, JJ.

LIACOS, Justice.

The plaintiff Eileen K. Dohoney (claimant) became pregnant and left her job with the Pittsfield National Bank (bank) on October 25, 1976. She did not indicate a desire to return when she left her job, and when again available for work, she declined to accept the position she had held. Thereafter she applied for unemployment benefits. The director of the Division of Employment Security (division) allowed benefits. The bank appealed to the division's board of review (G.L. c. 151A, § 40). The board assigned the matter to a single review examiner (G.L. c. 151A, § 41), who held a hearing on March 29, 1977. He concluded that the claimant had left work "voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employing unit" and was therefore ineligible under G.L. c. 151A, § 25(E )(1), for unemployment compensation. 1 The board of review, one member dissenting, denied the claimant's application for rehearing thereby making the decision of the review examiner the decision of the board. A judge of the District Court of Central Berkshire concluded that the claimant's reason for leaving to give birth to a child was of such an "urgent, compelling and necessitous nature as to make her separation involuntary," and reversed. We hold that the review examiner's decision was supported by substantial evidence and not based on any error of law. We reverse the judgment of the District Court.

We state the facts as found by the examiner. The bank hired the claimant on April 10, 1972, primarily as a travel department consultant. The claimant's duties also included some bookkeeping. Up to July, 1976, the claimant performed her functions on a full time basis. At that time, she was entering the latter portion of her pregnancy and requested that she be allowed to work part time only. The bank granted the request, narrowing her responsibilities strictly to bookkeeping, and assigned the claimant's full time duties as travel consultant to another employee. October 25th was the last day the claimant worked before leaving to give birth. Before leaving, the claimant did not discuss with bank officials the possibility of returning to work after the birth of her child. The bank's vice president in charge of personnel testified that as of the day she left he had considered her employment with the bank to be terminated. In November, after having received permission from her doctor to resume working, the claimant asked to return to work at her first position, but the personnel supervisor at the bank advised her that only the part time position that she had held before leaving was still available to her. The claimant chose not to return to work.

It is now settled that a person who is forced to leave work because of compelling personal circumstances has left work involuntarily and is not subject to temporary disqualification under G.L. c. 151A, § 25(E )(1). Raytheon Co. v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 364 Mass. 593, 596, 307 N.E.2d 330 (1974). 2 Moreover, it is clear that pregnancy or a pregnancy-related disability (e. g., a miscarriage) may be a compelling personal circumstance not unlike other disabilities that legitimately require absence from work, neither of which condition is viewed as causing a "voluntary" departure from work. Cf. Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, --- Mass. ---, --- - --- A, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978) (pregnancy related disability); Black v. School Comm. of Malden, 365 Mass. 197, 310 N.E.2d 330 (1974) (pregnancy). But neither of these principles resolves the issue presented here. The mere fact of pregnancy does not relieve an employee of the need to show that pregnancy or a pregnancy-related disability was the cause of her termination of employment.

General Laws c. 151A, § 25(E )(1), provides that separation may be deemed involuntary only when the employee's "reasons for leaving were for . . . an urgent, compelling and necessitous nature . . . ." G.L. c. 151A, § 25(E ), as amended through St.1975, c. 684, § 78. As it appears in § 25(E ), "leaving" refers to the termination or severance of the employment relationship, see Western Elec. Co. v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 340 Mass. 190, 192-193, 163 N.E.2d 154 (1960), not to a temporary absence. The distinction is crucial in that not every "urgent, compelling and necessitous" absence requires termination. Normally, a worker who anticipates a legitimate absence from work can take steps to preserve her employment. When a worker fails to take such steps and severance results, it is the worker's own inaction rather than compelling personal reasons that causes the leaving. Compare Olechnicky v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 325 Mass. 660, 92 N.E.2d 252 (1950), with Raytheon Co. v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, supra. We do not believe that the Legislature intended benefits be paid to a claimant who, anticipating a necessary absence from work, fails to take reasonable means to preserve her job. In such an instance, the employee's separation need not be deemed involuntary, and disqualification under § 25(E )(1) is appropriate.

We are unpersuaded that the repeal of G.L. c. 151A, § 27, by St.1973, c 1042, requires a contrary result. Section 27, as appearing in St.1965, c. 634, provided in part that "No waiting period may be served and no benefits shall be paid for the period of unemployment during which an individual is unavailable for work because of pregnancy. . . . In no event shall a waiting period be served or benefits paid for the four weeks prior to or the four weeks next ensuing after the date of birth of the child." The claimant seems to suggest that repeal of this provision establishes maternity leave as involuntary per se for purposes of § 25(E )(1). We disagree. When in force, § 27 dealt solely with the question of a claimant's availability for work, see G.L. c. 151A, § 24(B ), not with the issue of whether a claimant left work voluntarily. Although related, these issues are distinct. See Keough v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 370 Mass. 1, 5, 344 N.E.2d 894 (1976). Moreover, the express purpose of repeal as recommended by the Governor was to permit "a working woman to schedule maternity leave according to her personal needs," see 1973 House Doc. No. 6489, not to make female employees who leave their jobs to give birth automatically eligible for unemployment compensation.

It remains for us to consider whether there is substantial evidence to support the examiner's determination that by failing to request a leave of absence the claimant had failed to explore a reasonable means of preserving her job. We believe there is such support. 3 Not unlike a person who had scheduled elective surgery, the claimant anticipated her departure from work...

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