Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH-DOES-406-09)
Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judge, REID,*fn1 Associate Judge, Retired, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.
Opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part by Senior Judge SCHWELB at p. 9.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has asked this court to review the decision of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) awarding respondent Tawanna F. Webb unemployment compensation benefits. The ALJ's decision was not on the merits, but was based on OMB's failure to appear at a previously scheduled hearing. Ms. Webb has not filed a brief in this court, and the case is before us on the administrative record and the OMB's brief alone. Under the particular circumstances of this case, we vacate the decision of the OAH and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Ms. Webb is a former employee of the OMB, which is a federal agency within the Executive Office of the President. After leaving her employment with the OMB, Ms. Webb applied to the Department of Employment Services (DOES) for unemployment compensation benefits. On November 5, 2009, however, a DOES Claims Examiner determined that Ms. Webb was ineligible to receive benefits because her "leaving was voluntary and not with good cause connected with the work."*fn2
By letter dated November 13, 2009, Ms. Webb appealed from the Claims Examiner's determination, and she requested a hearing before the OAH. Ms. Webb's letter was addressed solely to the OAH, with no notice to the OMB. On November 18, 2009, the OAH issued a Scheduling Order notifying the parties that a hearing would be held on December 2, 2009. The Scheduling Order was accompanied by a Certificate of Service, which stated that on November 18, 2009, a copy of the Scheduling Order was sent by first-class mail to Ms. Webb and to the "Office of Management & Budget, Attn: Human Resources, 725 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20503."
Ms. Webb appeared pro se at the December 2, 2009 hearing. No OMB representative appeared. According to the OMB, this was because the agency had not yet received notice that Ms. Webb had applied for unemployment compensation benefits, or that those benefits had been denied by the Claims Examiner, or that Ms. Webb had filed an appeal with the OAH. The OMB represents that it received the Scheduling Order on December 11, 2009. The OMB further represents that mail addressed to the agency, which is located in the White House complex, must go through the mail-screening security procedures of the United States Secret Service before delivery to the OMB's internal offices. According to the OMB, this mandatory screening procedure causes substantial delays in delivery. In this case, because the agency had not received actual notice of the OAH hearing before it was scheduled to be held, no representative of the OMB appeared before the ALJ.
In light of the OMB's failure to appear, the ALJ decided by default that Ms. Webb was qualified to receive unemployment compensation benefits, and she reversed the Claims Examiner's contrary determination. After acknowledging the OMB's absence and explaining that the employer had the burden of proof, the ALJ advised Ms. Webb that:
[U]nder the law I'm required to find you are qualified for benefits . . . What I'm inclined to do is end the hearing right now, go with what the law tells me to do, find that you're qualified for benefits, and send you on your way and issue a written order.
On December 4, 2009, in a written Final Order, the ALJ formalized her oral ruling, reversed the Claims Examiner's determination, and held that Ms. Webb was qualified to receive benefits.
District of Columbia law provides unemployment compensation benefits to individuals who meet certain eligibility requirements. See D.C. Code § 51-109 (2001). Individuals who leave their "most recent work voluntarily without good cause connected with the work," however, are disqualified from receiving such benefits. D.C. Code § 51-110 (a); see also 7 DCMR § 311.1 (2010). Although an employee's "leaving [work is] presumed to be involuntary," an employer may rebut this presumption by "present[ing] evidence sufficient to support a finding . . . that the leaving was voluntary." 7 DCMR § 311.3; see also Berkley v. D.C. Transit, Inc., 950 A.2d 749, 757-58 (D.C. 2008). The employer bears the burden of proving that the employee left voluntarily. Berkley, supra, 950 A.2d at ...