Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Trappier v. Butler, Commissioner of Georgia Department of Labor

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

February 7, 2019

TRAPPIER
v.
BUTLER, COMMISSIONER OF GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.

          MCFADDEN, P. J., RICKMAN and MARKLE, JJ.

          Rickman, Judge.

         Anthony W. Trappier was denied unemployment compensation after he left his job as a commercial driver for Seminole Sanitation Services. Trappier appealed, and after a hearing, an administrative hearing officer affirmed the decision. Trappier then sought review by the Department of Labor's Board of Review ("the Board"), and they affirmed the hearing officer's findings and decision. Following the Board's decision, Trappier filed a petition for judicial review in superior court, which affirmed the Board's decision. Trappier requested permission to file a discretionary appeal, which this Court granted. In several enumerated errors, Trappier contends that the superior court erred by affirming the Board's denial of unemployment benefits. For the following reasons, we reverse.

         "Judicial review of an administrative decision requires this Court to determine that the findings of fact are supported by 'any evidence' and to examine the soundness of the conclusions of law that are based upon the findings of fact." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Hudson v. Butler, 337 Ga.App. 207 (786 S.E.2d 879) (2016). "When this Court reviews a superior court's order in an administrative proceeding, our duty is not to review whether the record supports the superior court's decision but whether the record supports the final decision of the administrative agency." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id.

         We note that the appellee has failed to file a brief in this case. "As a result, we accept [Trappier's] statement of facts as prima facie true and decide the case on the basis of this statement and the evidence cited and quoted in support thereof." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Thomas v. Butler, 330 Ga.App. 675, 676-677 (769 S.E.2d 104) (2015).

         So viewed, the record shows that Trappier worked as a commercial driver for Seminole Sanitation Services from April 2014 to April 2016. On March 17, 2016, Trappier was involved in a fatal car accident while he was driving a Seminole truck. It is undisputed that Trappier was not at fault for the accident. Trappier received injuries in the accident, and he provided Seminole with a doctor's note that excused him from work until approximately 10 days after the accident. As a result of the accident, Trappier sought counseling and was informed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD").

         After the accident, Trappier spoke with the owner of Seminole at least twice, informing her that he did not want to drive any longer because of the trauma he suffered after the accident. Seminole's owner offered Trappier a different driving route where he would be able to drive at a slower speed than he did on his previous route, but Trappier informed her that he thought he could no longer drive. Trappier recalled that Seminole's owner also offered him an office job, but that the office job paid at a lower rate than his driving job. Seminole's owner, however, claimed that she did not discuss the option of an office job with Trappier. Seminole's owner told Trappier to take as much time as he needed before returning to work.

         Seminole's owner did not hear from Trappier again until November 2016, when he filed a claim for unemployment benefits. At the time that Trappier filed his first claim for benefits, Seminole's owner considered Trappier to be absent from work but still employed by Seminole. However, Trappier believed that his employment had ended on the day he informed Seminole's owner that he could no longer drive the truck due to the trauma he had suffered after the accident. The claims examiner determined that Trappier was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because he was still employed by Seminole. Thereafter, Seminole issued a formal separation notice.

         Trappier appealed the claims examiner's decision, and the administrative hearing officer affirmed but modified the basis for the ruling, disqualifying Trappier under OCGA § 34-8-194 (1).[1] The hearing officer found that Trappier quit his employment in March or April 2016 when he informed Seminole's owner that he could no longer drive because of the accident, but that Trappier did not inform Seminole's owner that he was quitting. Ultimately, the hearing officer determined that Trappier was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because Trappier did not allow Seminole's owner a full opportunity to address his concerns, and because he did not show that he quit his employment with good cause. Trappier appealed to the Board, which affirmed the hearing officer's decision. Trappier filed a petition for judicial review, and the superior court affirmed the Board's decision. The superior court found that the record showed that Trappier did not tell Seminole that he was quitting and did not allow Seminole a full opportunity to address his concerns, even assuming Trappier impliedly resigned from Seminole prior to November 2016, he was still required to show good cause for doing so, but he cited no cases supporting his claim. Trappier requested permission to file a discretionary appeal, which this Court granted.

         Trappier contends that the superior court erred by, inter alia, holding that Trappier did not have good cause to support his resignation from Seminole.

         As set forth in the Employment Security law, "[t]he public policy of this state is declared to be as follows: economic insecurity due to unemployment is a serious menace to the health, morals, and welfare of the people of this state." OCGA § 34-8-2. "Therefore, Georgia has a strong public policy favoring payment of unemployment benefits to persons unemployed through no fault of their own." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Hudson, 337 Ga.App. at 209. In accordance with this policy, "courts should liberally construe the provisions of the unemployment statutes in favor of the employee, and statutory exceptions and exemptions that are contrary to the expressed intention of the law should be narrowly construed." Id; see also Scott v. Butler, 327 Ga.App. 457, 460 (1) (759 S.E.2d 545) (2014).

         OCGA § 34-8-194 (1) (A) provides that an individual shall be disqualified for unemployment benefits when he or she voluntarily leaves his employment "without good cause in connection with the individual's most recent work." "[T]he burden of proof of good cause in connection with the individual's most recent work shall be on the individual." OCGA § 34-8-194 (1) (D). "Whether or not an employee voluntarily leaves employment is usually a question of fact, but whether there existed good cause for his voluntary termination more often requires a legal conclusion." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Holstein v. North Chemical Co., 194 Ga.App. 546, 548 (3) (390 S.E.2d 910) (1990). "The question of whether [Trappier] quit [his] job either with or without 'good cause' requires a legal conclusion...." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id. at 207-208.

         Whether an employee who suffers work-related PTSD can show good cause for his voluntary termination is an issue of first impression in Georgia. "An employee who voluntarily quits is to be disqualified unless he/she can show that the employer had changed the terms and conditions of work in a manner that the employee, applying the judgment of a reasonable person, would not be expected to continue that employment." Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 300-2-9-.05 (1). Factors to consider when making this determination include, among others:

Whether the employee's health was placed in jeopardy by conditions on the job. There must be some clear connection between the health problem and the performance of the job, and professional medical advice is required unless the reason would be obvious that harm to the employee would result from continued employment. . . . Provided, however, the employee must discuss the matter with the employer to seek a solution by another assignment or other changes that would ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.