On Petition for Review of a Decision of the Office of Administrative Hearings. (ESP106736-07).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge
Before REID and FISHER, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.
Petitioner, Ruth E. Berkley, seeks review of a decision of the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH") affirming a determination of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services ("DOES") disqualifying her from receiving unemployment compensation benefits. Ms. Berkley, who proceeded pro se before the OAH, claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") inadequately and erroneously explained the employer's burden of proof, and improperly suggested that she had to testify to satisfy her "burden," even though the employer did not appear at the hearing and offered no proof as to whether she voluntarily quit her job. She also claims that OAH improperly analyzed the "voluntary leaving" or "voluntary quit" issue, and further contends that the record does not support a finding that she did not have good cause to leave her position. We reverse OAH's decision and remand this matter to OAH for findings and conclusions not inconsistent with this opinion.
The record shows that petitioner, Ruth E. Berkley, filed a request with DOES for unemployment benefits. On February 22, 2007, DOES issued its written notice denying benefits.*fn2 Four days later, Ms. Berkley appealed the claims examiner's determination to OAH.*fn3 As "reasons for appeal," she stated: "[The owner of D.C. Transit and his partner] gave me a bounce[d] check, plu[s] he was only giv[ing] me (4) four hrs. or no work at all[;] shudles [sic] was getting short." OAH scheduled Ms. Berkley's hearing for March 16, 2007. On that day, the respondent did not appear. Ms. Berkley was present, but was not represented by counsel.
At the beginning of the hearing, the ALJ informed Ms. Berkley that there were two issues to be addressed in the hearing: (1) jurisdiction, or "whether this Administrative Court has the power and authority to hear this case today"; and (2) "whether [Ms. Berkley] voluntarily left [her] job, and if . . . so, [whether she had] good cause connected with the work." As to the first issue, the ALJ informed Ms. Berkley that her appeal was timely.
With respect to the second issue, the ALJ advised Ms. Berkley that the general rule is an unemployed individual is eligible for benefits, unless the "[c]laimant voluntarily left work."*fn4 He explained that "if the [c]laimant did voluntarily leave work, the [c]laimant can come forward and explain the reasons why she left work, and if they are good reasons . . . connected with the job itself, then that overcomes the exception and the [c]laimant will qualify for benefits." The ALJ acknowledged that the respondent, D.C. Transit, was not present and then declared:
It's initially the [e]mployer's burden to establish that the [c]laimant voluntarily left work. However, you have the right to testify today, although you're not obliged to do so. But if you choose to testify, you can meet your burden of explaining if you did, in fact, voluntarily quit work, that you did it for a good reason connected with work.
Immediately following the court's declaration, the following exchange occurred.
ALJ: Okay. Do you have any questions about -- so far for the court?
Ms. Berkley: No; I guess I'm going to go ahead and state my case.
ALJ: Okay. Well, the way we'll conduct the proceeding today is, you will be provided an opportunity to state your case. You can present any relevant testimony. . . . Nothing that has been provided to the DOES is part of the record. And I can't use anything other than what you say today and the documents you admit into the record to form my opinion. Your testimony will be under oath, and I will be able to ask you questions.
ALJ: The reason why you need to present all your evidence today and documents is because the Office of Administrative Hearings is an independent agency, and we do not have the record from the ...