This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
D. Knodel, Relator,
Accounting Enhancements, Inc.,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Department of Economic Security
File No. 552700
Nelson L. Peralta, Peterson, Fishman, Livgard & Capistrant, P.L.L.P., 3009 Holmes Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55497 (for relator)
Accounting Enhancements, Inc., 5729 22nd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55417; and
Kent E. Todd, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Lindberg, Judge.*
This appeal is from a decision of the representative of the Commissioner of Economic Security that relator John D. Knodel is not entitled to receive unemployment benefits because he voluntarily quit his job without a good reason caused by the employer. Relator challenges the decision, contending that the evidence does not show that he quit, and that he had a reasonable, good-faith belief that he had been fired. We reverse.
Benefits Administration Company (BAC) employed Knodel as a manager of software development projects beginning in March 1999. BAC is closely related to another company, Accounting Enhancements, Inc. The two companies share office space, and Accounting Enhancements develops software packages for BAC. Accounting Enhancement’s president, Lee Lofgren, testified that because Knodel’s main responsibility was overseeing a project assigned to Accounting Enhancements to develop payroll software for BAC, his employment was transferred to Accounting Enhancements. The commissioner’s representative found that Accounting Enhancements was Knodel’s employer and that Ken Flannery, BAC’s president, was Knodel’s supervisor.
Accounting Enhancements authorized Knodel’s request to take a one-week vacation to go skiing in Colorado beginning January 30, 2000. On the first day of his vacation, Knodel suffered a severe heart attack while skiing. He was hospitalized in Colorado until February 18, 2000, when he was transferred to a hospital in Minneapolis. Knodel was released from the hospital on March 18, 2000.
Knodel’s wife worked at BAC, and Flannery was her supervisor. While Knodel was hospitalized, his wife kept Flannery and others at BAC and Accounting Enhancements apprised of his condition.
Knodel testified that while he was hospitalized in Minneapolis, his wife told him that Flannery had told her that when Knodel returned to work, he would be paid on a commission only, sales basis. Knodel testified that he told his wife to ask Flannery to call him to discuss the change and that he made several other efforts to contact Flannery. Knodel testified that he called the office and left two voicemail messages for Flannery. He testified that he spoke to another employee, Kevin Richardson, and asked Richardson to have Flannery call him. Knodel testified that after being released from the hospital, he continued his efforts to contact Flannery.
On about April 8, 2000, Knodel’s wife told Flannery that she was quitting her job. Flannery told her that if she quit, she could tell her husband that he did not have to come back either. Knodel learned about Flannery’s statement. Knodel’s wife quit a few days later.
Knodel testified that he continued his efforts to contact Flannery. He testified that altogether, he left about ten voicemail messages for Flannery at work. He testified that he also went to Flannery’s house twice, but Flannery was not at home and that the first time he went there, he left a note for Flannery. Flannery did not contact Knodel.
The commissioner’s representative found:
(3) While [Knodel] was hospitalized in Minneapolis, [he] attempted to contact his supervisor but without success. [Knodel’s] supervisor was the president of the company which was closely associated with the employer, BAC. [Knodel’s] wife was also supervised by the president of BAC. After his last day of work, [Knodel] did not actually speak with his immediate supervisor or with the president of the above-named employer, Accounting Enhancements Inc., concerning his job status.
(4) On or about April 8, 2000, [Knodel’s] wife had informed her supervisor that she was quitting her job. The supervisor, who was also [Knodel’s] supervisor told [Knodel’s] wife that since she was quitting her job that [Knodel] does not have a chance of coming back to work for the employer. [Knodel] was made aware of the telephone conversation between his wife and his supervisor. [Knodel] did not contact his supervisor or the president of the employer thereafter concerning his job and he did not return to work.
The commissioner’s representative explained his conclusion that Knodel quit employment without a good reason caused by the employer as follows:
[Knodel] relied upon a phone conversation between his wife and his supervisor wherein the wife was told that [Knodel] had no chance to return to work for the employer.
We conclude that the average reasonable employee would not have concluded that he was discharged because of that phone conversation without further discussion with management of the above-named employer, including the applicant’s supervisor and/or the president of the employer. [Knodel] had no contact with either of those individuals after he went on vacation in January of 2000. Therefore, we do not conclude that [Knodel] was discharged from his employment. We conclude that [Knodel] made the decision, at the time his employment ended, to end the employment.
Whether an employee quit or was discharged from employment is a question of fact. Midland Elec., Inc. v. Johnson, 372 N.W.2d 810, 812 (Minn. App. 1985). This court reviews findings of fact in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s representative’s decision and will not disturb them as long as there is evidence that reasonably tends to sustain them. Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).
A quit occurs “when the decision to end the employment was, at the time the employment ended, the employee’s.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 2(a) (2000). But an employee does not quit employment when his failure to return to work is due to a reasonable belief that he has been discharged. Souder v. Ziegler, Inc., 424 N.W.2d 834, 835-36 (Minn. App. 1988).
The commissioner’s representative found that Knodel quit because Knodel failed to contact Accounting Enhancements or Flannery after learning that he could not return to employment if his wife quit her job.
Knodel argues that he made efforts to contact Flannery after learning on April 8 that Flannery said Knodel could not return to work if his wife quit and that Flannery’s failure to respond to Knodel shows that Knodel was discharged. The commissioner’s representative did not make a specific finding on whether Knodel attempted to contact Flannery after April 8, but the commissioner’s representative’s findings indicate that he found credible Knodel’s testimony about his efforts to contact Flannery.
We conclude that the evidence does not reasonably sustain the commissioner’s representative’s finding that Knodel quit his job. The evidence demonstrates that after suffering his heart attack, Knodel kept in touch with his employer through his wife. The commissioner’s representative found that Knodel’s wife informed his supervisor about his condition. In addition, the commissioner’s representative found that while he was in the hospital, Knodel attempted to contact his supervisor.
After Flannery told Knodel’s wife that if she quit, she could tell her husband that he did not have to come back either, Knodel continued trying to contact his supervisor, but his supervisor would not respond to his contacts. In light of the repeated unsuccessful attempts to obtain a response from Flannery, it was reasonable for Knodel to believe that Flannery’s statement that he did not have to come back either meant that he had been discharged. Because Knodel reasonably believed that he had been discharged, his failure to return to work did not mean that he quit.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.