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FRANKLIN v. DEPT. OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES

April 2, 1998

CRYSTAL FRANKLIN, PETITIONER,
V.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT. TRICAP MANAGEMENT, INC., ET AL., INTERVENORS.



APPEAL FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES (DOES).

Before Terry, Steadman and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge:

Petitioner Crystal Franklin appeals from an order of the Department of Employment Services ("DOES") denying her claim for temporary total income replacement, or wage loss benefits under the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act of 1979, D.C.Code § 36-301, et seq. (1997), upon the ground that she voluntarily terminated her employment for economic reasons. *fn1 We affirm.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

Ms. Franklin was employed as a porter with Tricap Management at the Parkway Overlook Apartment Complex in Washington, D.C., from August 16, 1990 until April 7, 1993, when she resigned her employment effective April 12, 1993, in order to take a "better paying job" with "easier dut[ies]." On March 11, 1993, prior to her April resignation, Ms. Franklin experienced "discomfort in her right wrist and swelling and numbness in her right fingers." On April 11, 1993, she [709 A2d Page 1176]

sought medical treatment for the persistent pain in her hand and was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Her last day of work at Tricap was April 12, 1993, which was also the day she began her new job as a housekeeper at New Hampshire Suites, where Ms. Franklin had worked previously from 1987 to 1989. However, by April 17, 1993, Ms. Franklin's carpal tunnel syndrome rendered her unable to continue work at the new company, as advised by her doctor. Thus, on or about April 20, 1993, she resigned her position with the new employer because of the pain in her hand.

Ms. Franklin applied for temporary total disability and causally related medical expense benefits, pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act, for the period April 17, 1993 to the present and continuing. *fn2 Subsequent to a hearing before a DOES examiner, a compensation order was issued granting, in part, and denying, in part, Ms. Franklin's claim for benefits. The hearing examiner found that Ms. Franklin suffered from a cumulative trauma, which arose out of and in the course of her employment with Tricap, but that she "terminated her employment [with Tricap] for personal economic reasons." Based upon that factual finding, the examiner concluded:

Agency precedent holds that where an employee terminates employment for economic reasons, compensation for subsequent wage loss is not the responsibility of that employer. See Powers v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 566 A.2d 1068 (D.C. 1989). . . .

Notwithstanding, claimant is entitled to payment of medical expenses causally related to her work injury as set forth in D.C.Code, as amended, § 36-307.

The compensation order of the hearing examiner was affirmed by the Director of DOES. Ms. Franklin asks this court to review the agency's denial of temporary total disability benefits.

ANALYSIS

Ms. Franklin contends that her claim for temporary total income replacement or wage loss benefits should not have been denied. The sole issue under review is whether the Director's interpretation of the Workers' Compensation Act affirmed by this court in Powers v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 566 A.2d 1068 (D.C. 1989), can be applied to the facts of this case. We hold that the agency acted permissibly in determining that Powers applies to Ms. Franklin's case. "An agency's findings of fact and conclusions of law must be affirmed if they are supported by substantial evidence." District of Columbia v. Davis, 685 A.2d 389, 393 (D.C. 1996). "We will not disturb the agency's decision if it flows rationally from the facts which are supported by substantial evidence in the record." Oubre v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 630 A.2d 699, 702 (D.C. 1993). "Although we are vested 'with the final authority on issues of statutory construction,' Harris v. District of Columbia Office of Worker's Compensation (DOES), 660 A.2d 404, 407 (D.C. 1995), [w]e must defer to an agency's interpretation of the statute which it administers . . . so long as that interpretation is reasonable and consistent with the statutory language." Davis, supra, 685 A.2d at 393 (quoting Taggart-Wilson v. District of Columbia, 675 A.2d 28,29 (D.C. 1996)).

Ms. Franklin claims that she is entitled to wage loss benefits because she sustained a work-related injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, and was "functionally disabled from returning to the usual employment duties and responsibilities of her job." Thus, she asserts that Tricap was "obligated to provide light duty or income replacing benefits." However, as Ms. Franklin admits, the offer of light duty work was not applicable to her case because she left her employment with Tricap almost immediately after her diagnosis. At the time she left Tricap, Ms. ...


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