February 9, 2024
Aakruti G. Vakharia, under the mentorship of Nicholas Giove, and with the assistance of Annie Bolton, represented a Claimant at three hearings before the New York State Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board. This pro bono opportunity was available through the Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) in New York City. Ms. Vakharia represented the Claimant as lead counsel at all three hearings, Annie Bolton researched and provided input on key legal points at issue, and Nicholas Giove provided guidance on legal theory development, direct and cross examination strategy, and in drafting the summation.1 Tori Roseman at VOLS also assisted in discussing and formulating the case theory. The team won a judgment awarding full unemployment benefits to the Claimant.
The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) had initially awarded the Claimant unemployment benefits after determining that the Claimant voluntarily quit their job with good cause. However, after seven weeks, the DOL reversed its decision following two separate appeals from the Claimant’s former employer. The Claimant appealed this reversal, and sought the assistance of counsel on appeal.
The appeal proceedings took place over three days of hearings. During these hearings, Ms. Vakharia conducted a direct examination of her client; cross examined two witnesses – the President and another Executive at the Claimant’s former employer; – and delivered a compelling closing argument. At the hearings, Ms. Vakharia successfully argued objections and incorporated novel evidence and arguments presented at the hearings into the examinations and closing argument. On February 6, 2024, the Judge issued an opinion holding that the Claimant voluntarily quit with good cause because: (1) the employer unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of the Claimant’s employment by adding manual labor to their duties, (2) after the Claimant made their employer aware of an injury, the employer still required the Claimant to continue doing manual labor, (3) the employer sought to unilaterally reduce the Claimant’s work schedule from full time to part time to be able to afford hiring someone more physically capable of doing the manual labor duties that the Claimant was unable to perform fast enough for the employer, (4) the employer’s “suggestion” for the Claimant to accept a new part-time arrangement was not optional, and (5) the reduction in hours would have caused the Claimant, the sole breadwinner for their family, to lose their health insurance. For these reasons, the Judge held that the Claimant is entitled to continue receiving unemployment benefits.
This was Ms. Vakharia’s second case as lead counsel, and second victory, representing a Claimant before the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.