By: Jennifer Vorih, Esq., and Ty Hyderally, Esq.
In a recent decision, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court vacated a decision by the New Jersey Department of Labor (“NJDOL”) Board of Review, which had denied the unemployment claim of Dzemal Sefedini. Mr. Sefedini worked for Jo Jo’s Italian Grille for approximately seventeen years before having his hours cut drastically and then being terminated in June or July of 2019.
Mr. Sefedini applied for unemployment benefits and also consulted with an attorney about pursuing a discrimination claim against his former employer. He was interviewed in connection with his claim, on August 12, 2019. According to Mr. Sefedini the interviewer was aggressive toward him and referred to his former employer by the wrong name. On August 22, 2019, the NJDOL denied Mr. Sefedini’s claim for benefits, stating that he had left his job voluntarily.
On August 30, Mr. Sefedini wrote to the NJDOL and explained why he felt that his termination had been unjust. Mr. Sefedini also timely appealed the denial of benefits, on September 3, 2019.
The NJDOL then scheduled a telephonic appeal hearing for October 1, 2019, regarding Mr. Sefedini’s claim, and notified him of this on September 17, 2019. Mr. Sefedini was notified that he had to register for the hearing no later than 3:00pm the business day before the hearing, using a link the NJDOL sent. The NJDOL also notified Mr. Sefedini that if he failed to register as required, his appeal could be denied. Mr. Sefedini neither registered for nor appeared at the hearing.
Because Mr. Sefedini did not register for or appear at the hearing, the Appeal Tribunal had two options: either go forward with the hearing in Mr. Sefedini’s absence, or dismiss his claim due to nonappearance. The Appeal Tribunal dismissed Mr. Sefedini’s claim due to nonappearance. A claimant whose claim is dismissed by the Appeal Tribunal for nonappearance has six months following the dismissal within which to show good cause for the nonappearance, in which case the Appeal Tribunal is to set aside the dismissal and schedule a hearing.
The Appeal Tribunal notified Mr. Sefedini of his rights on October 1, 2019, and instructed him that to appeal, he needed to send a letter to the NJDOL with his name, Social Security number, reason for nonappearance, and his case number. On October 6, 2019, Mr. Sefedini wrote and requested a new hearing. The NJDOL then requested, on October 17, 2019, an explanation for the nonappearance, as well as any supporting documentation. Mr. Sefedini replied on November 22, 2019, saying he had tried three times to register and believed he had done everything he had been asked to do, and pleading for another chance. Despite it being apparent that Mr. Sefedini had tried in earnest to register for the hearing and that he did not have a full grasp of what was required of him, the Appeals examiner found that Mr. Sefedini had not shown good cause and denied his request.
Mr. Sefedini appealed this decision to the Board of Review, explaining, basically, that he had tried his best, and again pleading for another chance to be heard. Mr. Sefedini’s letter made clear that his English language skills were weak enough that he might not have been able to fully comprehend the correspondence from the NJDOL, but that he had tried strenuously to do what was required of him. Still, the Board of Review denied his appeal and upheld the Appeal Tribunal’s dismissal of his claim for nonappearance.
The Appellate Division’s authority in reviewing this matter was very limited, allowing it to overturn the Board of Review’s decision only if it found that the NJDOL had acted “arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably.” Fortunately for Mr. Sefedini, the Appellate Division was able to see that the NJDOL in this instance had acted unreasonably to deny him his day in court.
We must keep in mind the unprecedented number of claims with which the NJDOL has had to contend in the last nineteen months. However, Mr. Sefedini’s saga played out well before the pandemic began. Especially in light of the NJDOL’s callous denial of Mr. Sefedini’s claim and heartless disregard for Mr. Sefedini’s circumstances and multiple attempts to be heard, it is refreshing to see that the Appellate Division was able to see that the attempts of the self-proclaimed “pizza man” Mr. Sefedini required the NJDOL to give him a reasonable chance to be heard.
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