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Darkenwald v. The Employment Security Department

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

May 21, 2015

Linda Darkenwald , Petitioner ,
v.
The Employment Security Department , Respondent

Argued February 24, 2015

Page 648

Edward E. Younglove III (of Younglove & Coker PLLC ), for petitioner.

Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General, Eric D. Peterson, Managing Assistant, and Eric A. Sonju and Jay D. Geck, Assistants, for respondent.

Michele Besso, Eric Dunn, David Morales, and Deborah Perluss on behalf of Northwest Justice Project, amicus curiae.

Janet S. Chung on behalf of Legal Voice, amicus curiae.

Jeffrey L. Needle on behalf of Washington Employment Lawyers Association, amicus curiae.

Robert A. Battles on behalf of Association of Washington Business, amicus curiae.

AUTHOR: Justice Charles K. Wiggins. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice Debra L. Stephens, Justice Steven C. Gonzalez, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Justice Mary I. Yu.

OPINION

Charles K. Wiggins, J.

Page 649

[183 Wn.2d 241] ¶ 1 Linda Darkenwald appeals from the Washington Employment Security Department's (Department) denial of her claim for unemployment benefits. We must decide whether a desire to work only part time constitutes a good cause reason for leaving work, thus permitting an individual who leaves work for that reason to collect unemployment benefits. Darkenwald claims that her employer's request that she increase her working hours to three days per week gave her good cause to leave work because she wanted to continue working only two days per week. She relies on a statute that does not apply to her and would not give her good cause to leave work even if it were applicable. The Employment Security Act (Act), Title 50 RCW, lists good-cause reasons for voluntarily leaving work and states that this list is exclusive. A desire to perform only part-time work is not a good cause under the Act, and the part-time worker provisions do not apply. [1] For these reasons, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background

¶ 2 Darkenwald worked as a dental hygienist in the office of Dr. Gordon Yamaguchi from 1985 to 2010. Initially, [183 Wn.2d 242] Darkenwald worked one day a week, but she increased this to two days a week and then four days a week. In 1998, she suffered a neck and back injury. Darkenwald received worker's compensation benefits after the Department of Labor and Industries found that she had a permanent impairment. Despite her injury, Darkenwald continued to work three to four days a week until 2006. From that point on, Darkenwald worked only on Mondays and Wednesdays, for a total of 14 to 17 hours per week. Dr. Yamaguchi asserts that Darkenwald reduced her hours in order to spend more time with her family.

¶ 3 In 2010, Dr. Yamaguchi added another dentist to his practice. Dr. Yamaguchi met with Darkenwald and asked her to return to working three days a week; specifically, he asked her to work Fridays in addition to Mondays and Wednesdays. In the alternative, he offered her a position as an on-call or substitute hygienist. [2] Darkenwald found neither of these alternatives acceptable and thus interpreted Dr. Yamaguchi's request as a termination of her employment, telling him, " I hear you saying that I am fired." During this meeting, Darkenwald never sad that her disability prevented her from working more than two days per week. Afterward, Darkenwald believed she had been fired, while Dr. Yamaguchi believed that she had quit. Darkenwald worked her last day at Dr. Yamaguchi's office a few days after this meeting, declining his offer of continued employment for three more weeks.

II. Procedural History

¶ 4 Eight days after her last day at Dr. Yamaguchi's office, Darkenwald filed a claim for unemployment benefits [183 Wn.2d 243] with the Department, asserting that she had been fired. Her initial application for benefits listed " wanted me to work more days" as the reason she was fired. The application did not mention her disability. After reviewing Dr. Yamaguchi's response, the Department denied Darkenwald's claim, stating that she had not been discharged but rather had " quit for personal reasons" and had " not established good cause" for quitting.

¶ 5 Darkenwald appealed the denial of her claim to an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the ...


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