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Douglas-Slade v. United States Dep't of Transportation

October 30, 2008

DEBORAH F. DOUGLAS-SLADE, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, RESPONDENT.



Petition for Review of an Order of the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings (ESP107456-07).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nebeker, Senior Judge

Submitted October 15, 2008

Before PRYOR, NEBEKER and TERRY, Senior Judges.

Petitioner, Mrs. Douglas-Slade, seeks review of an Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) order affirming a Department of Employment Services (DOES) determination denying her claim for unemployment benefits. Because OAH failed to consider evidence supporting petitioner's claim of employer retaliation, this court remands petitioner's case to OAH for consideration of whether the alleged retaliation constituted "good cause connected with the work" for petitioner to resign. See D.C. Code § 51-110 (a) (2001) ("any individual who left his most recent work voluntarily without good cause connected with the work . . . shall not be eligible for benefits"); 7 DCMR § 311.1 (1986) ("the Director shall disqualify for benefits any individual who left his or her most recent work voluntarily without good cause connected with the work").

I.

Petitioner worked for the federal government for approximately 27 years as a leader of the "Section 508" program of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She received various awards and promotions for excellent performance during her career. According to petitioner, she never faced leave restrictions and never experienced problems with management.

In February 2006, Ms. Diana Young became Program Director for the Information Management Division of the FAA and supervised petitioner. Petitioner and Ms. Young had a difficult employment relationship. Petitioner complained about Ms. Young's "unethical" and "peculiar" management style, unwarranted sexual advances, and aggressive use of authority. Ms. Young expressed concern about petitioner's attendance record and the quality of her work.

In July 2006, petitioner brought her concerns about Ms. Young to the attention of the Early Dispute Resolution office and requested reassignment. Petitioner subsequently brought an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) claim against Ms. Young, alleging a hostile work environment, race discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation.*fn1

In August 2006, Ms. Young placed leave restrictions on petitioner as a result of her frequent unscheduled absences. Ms. Young imposed specific requirements on petitioner and warned that a failure to adhere to these requirements could result in disciplinary action, including removal from federal service. Ms. Young subsequently issued an Opportunity to Demonstrate Performance (ODP), notifying petitioner that she could face removal from federal service if she failed to meet job expectations during a designated review period.The 18-page ODP stated that one of petitioner's "problems" was her "unsubstantiated claims of a hostile environment based on a potential decision to deny . . . leave."

Several months later Ms. Young issued a decision on petitioner's ODP and concluded that she had met performance expectations. Ms. Young noted, however, that petitioner needed to continue to demonstrate acceptable performance or she could face removal from federal service. Petitioner received a temporary reassignment*fn2 but submitted a letter of resignation the following day based on a "hostile environment," fear of retaliation, and a desire to preserve her "health and welfare."

A DOES claims examiner denied petitioner's claim for unemployment benefits following her resignation.Petitioner appealed and OAH held a hearing at which both petitioner and Ms. Young testified. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held that petitioner was not eligible for unemployment benefits because she resigned voluntarily and without good cause connected with the work. See D.C. Code § 51-110 (a); 7 DCMR § 311.1.

II.

This court reviews OAH decisions to determine whether they are "[a]rbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law[.]" D.C. Code § 2-510 (a)(3)(A). This court must affirm an OAH final order when "(1) OAH made findings of fact on each materially contested issue of fact, (2) substantial evidence supports each finding, and (3) OAH's conclusions flow rationally from its findings of fact." District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs. v. Vilche, 934 A.2d 356, 360 (D.C. 2007) (citing Rodriguez v. Filene's Basement Inc., 905 A.2d 177, 180 (D.C. 2006)). This court defers to OAH findings if they are "supported by substantial evidence in the record considered as a whole . . . ." Cooper v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 588 A.2d 1172, 1174 (D.C. 1991) (internal citation omitted); see also D.C. Code § 2-510 (a)(3)(E). Substantial evidence means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Gardner v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 736 A.2d 1012, 1015 (D.C. 1999) (internal citations omitted).

An employee who voluntarily leaves his or her job is generally disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits unless the employee resigned due ...


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