In this case, although Connolly volunteered to quit her job in return for a separation package, she nevertheless claimed that she was entitled to unemployment benefits on the ground that, in accepting her offer to quit, her employer, Verizon, had, as a legal matter, terminated her involuntarily.
Briefly stated, the factual background was as follows. In October 2008, Verizon determined that there was a surplus of employees in a customer-service department located one floor above Connolly’s department. In an effort to rebalance personnel and workload, the company transferred twelve of these employees to Connolly’s department. In another measure aimed at the same goal, Verizon offered customer-service representatives in Connolly’s department the opportunity to put in for a voluntary separation package. Under the terms of this package, employees would receive compensation to which they would otherwise not have been entitled, in return for agreeing to leave Verizon’s employ. Connolly was one of two employees who applied for the separation package, and Verizon approved them both. There is no evidence in the record that, absent these two offers, Verizon planned to lay anyone off. Pursuant to the terms of her separation package, Verizon removed Connolly from its payroll as of November 1, 2008, and paid her a total of $27,600.
Shortly thereafter, Connelly applied to the Division of Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”) for unemployment benefits. Her claim was rejected by the DUA, a decision upheld by the trial court, and the Supreme Judicial Court then granted direct appellate review. On appeal, Connolly argued that her termination was involuntary as a matter of law. She contended that under Morillo v. Director of the Division of Employment Security, 394 Mass. 765 (1985), an employee is terminated involuntarily whenever the employer takes the last step in the termination process, as Verizon supposedly did here when it exercised its discretion and accepted her offer to quit.
Believing that this proposed bright-line test was not justified by anything in Morillo and would sweep far too broadly, NELF filed an amicus brief in support of Verizon. As an initial matter, NELF argued that, because she conceded that her termination was voluntary before the DUA, Connolly had waived any argument on appeal that she was terminated involuntarily. NELF then contended that, even if Connolly had not waived her present argument, Morillo did not apply because the circumstances of that case were fundamentally different from the facts of this case and justified a different result. When Morillo volunteered to be laid off, a specific number of involuntary layoffs were imminent, so that he merely stepped into the shoes of a co-worker who would have been laid off involuntarily and would thereby have created a charge to the employer’s DUA account. Moreover, Morillo, unlike Connolly, received no separation package. The Morillo court clearly relied on these two key facts in deciding that an award of benefits to Morillo would be “equitable” because it would be economically neutral in its effects on the employer while providing needed economic protection to Morillo.
NELF urged the Court to rule that Connolly could not share Morillo’s outcome because she did not share the key facts. NELF concluded by urging the Court not to abandon the fact-sensitive approach used by the courts up to now when deciding when a termination should be deemed involuntary.
On June 16, 2011, the Supreme Judicial Court issued its opinion in this case (460 Mass. 24). Agreeing with NELF, and for the reasons urged by NELF in its amicus brief, the Court rejected Connolly’s claim for unemployment benefits based on her voluntary decision to leave her employment at Verizon.