STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Byrdie K. Reierson,
City of Hibbing,
Mitchell John Brunfelt, John M. Colosimo,
Colosimo, Patchin, Aronson & Kearney, 301 Chestnut Street, Virginia, MN
55792 (for relator)
Patricia Ytzen Beety, League of
Minnesota Cities, 145 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55103-2044 (for
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Crippen, Judge and Hanson, Judge.
An at-will employee can be terminated for any reason, and is not entitled to due process.
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
Relator Byrdie Reierson seeks review of the Hibbing City Council’s decision to terminate her employment. Relator contends that (1) the decision to terminate her employment was unfair and lacked due process because the city improperly relied on hearsay and other vague comments to support its decision; (2) there was insufficient evidence in the record to support its decision; (3) she was not given the documents that she was entitled to under the Data Practices Act; and (4) the city council did not make written findings. We affirm.
In October 1993, the City of Hibbing (the “city”) hired relator Byrdie Reierson as an administrative assistant. Relator signed an employment contract, which provided that she was an at-will employee, and as such, could be terminated “at any time, for any reason.” The contract also provided that the city would conduct an annual review of relator’s performance; until the year 2000, this review was not conducted. This contract was renewed in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, relator signed a new contract, where her position was changed to “confidential administrative executive secretary.” This contract also provided that relator could be terminated “at any time, for any reason.”
In July 1999, John Tourville became the new city administrator and relator’s direct supervisor. From July 1999 through August 2000, Tourville evaluated relator’s performance. According to Tourville, he was disappointed in relator’s performance, and he warned her about her productivity; Tourville did not document this warning. Tourville also claims that the interim administrator warned relator about doing personal work on city time, but this warning was not documented either. In fact, relator’s personnel record does not show that the quality of her work or her work ethic was poor. Also, relator’s personnel record fails to show that she was reprimanded for her poor performance or that co-workers complained of her work.
In August 2000, Tourville prepared relator’s annual performance evaluation. Relator’s overall rating in the performance evaluation was “needs improvement.” The evaluation indicated that relator (1) completed agendas and minutes at the last minute, and that the June minutes were not completed in time to go out with the July agenda; (2) neglected the personnel files many were missing and most were inadequately maintained; (3) did not deliver phone messages on time and sometimes failed to deliver them altogether; (4) failed to complete assignments that she was ordered to do, such as reviewing existing files and updating the city code changes on the city’s web page; and (5) had difficulty supporting some of the other departments and staff due to her adversarial attitude.
Tourville further indicated that
[relator] has to be more accountable for her actions. She has not told the truth on several occasions to cover for her lack of follow through on various tasks. Knowing that she is capable of being less than truthful about her actions makes it extremely difficult to confide in her as a Confidential Administrative Executive Secretary regarding proprietary issues for the City of Hibbing and HEDA.
Tourville listed comments made by a council member, various department heads,
and members of the secretarial staff. The
common complaints were that (1) relator was not dependable or loyal; (2) there
was no confidence in her as an employee; (3) relator did not follow
instructions; (4) she failed to complete tasks in a timely manner; and (4)
relator had an abrasive attitude and poor work quality.
As a result of this evaluation, on August 14, 2000, Tourville sent relator a letter informing her that she was being placed on paid leave pending the city council’s approval of the findings of the performance evaluation. Relator hired an attorney, who sent a letter to Tourville requesting to know the reasons for this action. On September 1, 2000, relator, her attorney, Tourville, and the Hibbing City attorney met to discuss the evaluation.
On September 5, 2000, the city council held a closed meeting to address relator’s performance evaluation. Relator and her attorney were present at that meeting. Tourville recommended that relator be terminated, relying on the reasons articulated in his evaluation. Relator, through her attorney, responded to Tourville’s comments. Her attorney explained that relator’s personnel file was “clean.” Specifically, he noted that any complaints of her performance through her seven years of employment, including those complaints noted by Tourville, were undocumented. In addition, he stated that relator should have been given an opportunity to improve her conduct. After relator’s response (through her attorney), she was asked to leave the room so that the council could make its decision.
After relator and her attorney left, the council raised their concern
about the fact that relator’s personnel file was void of any complaints or
evaluations. Tourville defended his
recommendation to terminate relator by referencing additional evidence.
Tourville claimed that the interim administrator had talked to relator
about the impropriety of doing personal work on work time; he claimed that this
fact was documented but not in relator’s personnel file.
Moreover, he claimed that he had documentation about the fact that people
had complaints to the prior administrator about relator and he did nothing about
it; he acknowledges that he did not keep this documentation in relator’s
personnel file. Relator was not
privy to this information. The city
council unanimously decided to terminate relator.
On October 29, 2000, relator filed a writ of certiorari.
Was the Hibbing City Council’s decision to terminate relator
arbitrary, oppressive, unreasonable, fraudulent, under an erroneous theory of
law, or without any evidence to support it?
Relator challenges the city council’s decision to terminate her employment. Our review on writ of certiorari is limited to an inspection of the record to determine the propriety of the city council's jurisdiction and procedures and, with respect to the merits, to determine whether its decision was arbitrary, oppressive, unreasonable, fraudulent, or unsupported by evidence or applicable law. Dietz v. Dodge County, 487 N.W.2d 237, 239 (Minn. 1992). As a reviewing court, we will not retry the facts or make credibility determinations. Senior v. City of Edina, 547 N.W.2d 411, 416 (Minn. App. 1996). The decision will be upheld if the city council “furnished any legal and substantial basis for the action taken.” Id. (citation omitted).