Figueroa v. Arizona Department of Economic Security – 8/2/2011

August 10, 2011

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That An Employee Separated from Employment After Stating She May Quit Is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits.

Valley Learning Centers (“Valley”) employed Linda Figueroa (“Figueroa”) for three years as a director of a child-care center.  After Valley refused to give Figueroa a bonus following her July 14, 2009 evaluation, Figueroa separated from employment and applied for unemployment benefits.  During an interview with an Arizona Department of Economic Security (“ADES”), Figueroa told the ADES deputy that she had advised her supervisor that she may be quitting, but she denied every saying that she was definitely quitting.  Concluding that Valley could not establish that Figueroa quit, the deputy determined that Figueroa was eligible for benefits.  Valley appealed, asserting that Figueroa had quit.  During the hearing before the Appeals Tribunal, several Valley employees testified that Figueroa notified them that she would give notice by the end of the workweek if she did not receive a bonus, that they hired a locksmith to change the locks at on July 17, and that Figueroa subsequently gave her two weeks notice.  The Appeals Tribunal determined that Figueroa was discharged for reasons other than willful or negligent misconduct and that she remained qualified for benefits.  The Appeals Board, however, concluded that Figueroa left work voluntarily and therefore was not entitled to benefits.  Figueroa timely appealed.

On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Figueroa was terminated and therefore eligible for benefits.   In Arizona, an employee who has been separated from employment is generally ineligible for unemployment benefits if the individual left work voluntarily without good cause.  A.R.S. § 23-775(1).  A.A.C. R6-3-50135(A)(2) therefore requires ADES to determine whether a separation from employment is a “quit” or a “discharge” when determining whether to award benefits.  Separation from employment is a “quit” when the worker acts to end the employment and intends that result, but it is a “discharge” when the employer acts to end the employment and intends that result.  A.A.C. R6-3-5013(A)(1).  In this case, the Court of Appeals concluded that even assuming that Figueroa said she planned to quit, the record was devoid of any evidence that Figueroa took action to end her employment.  Although Valley’s employees testified that Figueroa said she was going to give her notice, she had not done so at the time Valley changed the locks.  The Court of Appeals, therefore, reversed the Appeals Board’s determination that Figueroa left work voluntarily without good cause and remanded for further proceedings.

Judge Swann authored the opinion; Judges Irvine and Portley concurred.