In Kelley v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., ___ Cal.App.4th ___  (Feb. 10, 2014), the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Eight) affirmed the ruling of the Los Angeles County Superior Court (Judge Chalfant) overturning the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board’s (CUIAB) decision to deny unemployment benefits to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff went on a stress leave from her job as marketing director for defendant employer one month after she filed a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging that the company was retaliating against her for reporting ongoing sexual harassment. While she was on leave, she hired a lawyer who had communicated to the defendant employer’s attorneys that Plaintiff wanted certain assurances regarding her employment –a written job description and a guarantee of holiday vacation time – before she returned.  The defendant characterized this as the imposition of unreasonable conditions and promptly terminated her employment.

When Plaintiff applied for unemployment benefits, the defendant employer contended that Plaintiff was ineligible because she had “constructively” voluntarily quit when she insisted on conditions to return to work which defendant had no obligation to satisfy.  The Employment Development Department (EDD) agreed and denied her claim for benefits. That decision was reversed on appeal to an administrative law judge but the CUIAB disagreed and reinstated the EDD’s denial of her claim.  Plaintiff then brought an administrative mandate action, where the trial court found that Kelley had not constructively quit.

The appellate court affirmed, finding that there was substantial evidence that Plaintiff did not constructively quit but was instead fired. In rejecting the constructive voluntary quit theory, the court determined that the assurances requested by Plaintiff’s attorney were not ultimatums which forced the defendant employer to terminate her employment, especially since Plaintiff was never asked whether she would report for work if her requests were declined.