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Ngom v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services

December 28, 2006

ISMALIA NGOM, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT AND STARBUCKS COFFEE, ET AL., INTERVENOR.



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

On Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. (DKT 34-05)

Argued September 19, 2006

Before RUIZ and GLICKMAN, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

The Compensation Review Board of the Department of Employment Services ("DOES") affirmed the Compensation Order of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the DOES Office of Hearings and Adjudication which held that petitioner, Ismalia Ngom, was not entitled to workers' compensation because he left his employment "voluntarily." Petitioner asks this court to review and reverse the decision rendered by DOES. After reviewing the decision of the ALJ, we cannot discern the basis for the ALJ's finding that Mr. Ngom left his work voluntarily, and we remand for further explanation of the ALJ's decision.

I.

Mr. Ngom injured his back lifting a crate of milk while working at Starbucks Coffee ("Starbucks") in Washington, D.C. on September 14, 2000. Mr. Ngom took a leave of absence to recover from his injury, and he returned to work at Starbucks in December, 2000.

On February 13, 2001, Mr. Ngom resigned from his position at Starbucks to visit his family in Senegal. When he returned from Senegal, Mr. Ngom was offered a position at Starbucks at a location other than the one he had previously been employed, but Mr. Ngom declined the offer because he did not want to move to another location.

Petitioner filed for workers' compensation on two occasions. When Mr. Ngom first sought workers' compensation in January, 2003, ALJ Karen R. Calmeise found that Mr. Ngom's back pain was causally related to his injury at Starbucks, and therefore Mr. Ngom was entitled to compensation for his medical care. However, ALJ Calmeise held that because Mr. Ngom resigned from his position at Starbucks in 2001 for reasons unrelated to his injury, there was no causal connection between the injury and any economic disability after his resignation, which precluded him from recovering wage loss compensation.

Mr. Ngom subsequently moved to Atlanta and obtained employment at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Cracker Barrel Restaurant. While employed in Atlanta, Mr. Ngom experienced back pain. On October 20, 2003, he visited a physician, Dr. Lippitt, who, after examining Mr. Ngom, recommended that Mr. Ngom refrain from working. Despite the doctor's recommendations, Mr. Ngom continued to work in order to maintain an income. Later, Dr. Lippitt also examined a January 15, 2004 MRI that was performed on Mr. Ngom, which appeared to confirm Mr. Ngom's back pain. Mr. Ngom testified that in April, 2004*fn1 , he took leaves of absence from his positions at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Cracker Barrel Restaurant because Dr. Lippitt had instructed him to "just stop working."

On June 9, 2004, Mr. Ngom was again experiencing back pain and went to the emergency room at a hospital in Atlanta. The attending doctor diagnosed Mr. Ngom with "acute and chronic low back pain" and wrote in his report that Mr. Ngom should "no[t] work until further notice of specialist." Soon after this hospital visit, Mr. Ngom went to Senegal because he said he could no longer afford to live in the United States while unemployed.

Immediately after Mr. Ngom returned to the United States in 2004, he again sought workers' compensation in the District of Columbia from Starbucks. On this occasion, the hearing was held before ALJ Anand K. Verma, who found that Mr. Ngom was entitled to compensation for medical expenses because his back pain was causally related to his September, 2000 injury incurred while working at Starbucks. With respect to compensation for wage loss, ALJ Verma found that Mr. Ngom was ineligible for the period during which he was actually employed in Atlanta and receiving wages, as well as for the period commencing upon his leaves of absence from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Cracker Barrel Restaurant because he "voluntarily" left those positions in 2004.

In concluding that Mr. Ngom had left his employment in Atlanta voluntarily, the ALJ stated:

I find on or about January 2001 following his work injury on September 14, 2000, claimant returned to work in a modified position offered by employer wherein he worked until sometime in June 2004 . . . I find sometime in June 2004, claimant quit his job to go to Senegal, West Africa . . . As claimant's unrefuted testimony disclosed he continued to work with employer in a modified duty position until June 2004 notwithstanding his ongoing complaints of pain attributable to the ...


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