This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Hicks Trucking Company,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Filed October 2, 2001
Department of Economic Security
File No. 833400
John E. Mack, Mack & Daby, P.A., 26 Main Street, P.O. Box 302, New London, MN 56273 (for relator)
Hicks Trucking Company, 104 North Gorman Avenue, Litchfield, MN 55335 (respondent)
Kent E. Todd, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner of Economic Security)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Relator Thomas R. Huston, an over-the-road truck driver, quit after he was paid for “settlement miles” rather than “odometer miles,” which he believed violated his employment agreement with respondent Hicks Trucking Company. A representative of respondent Commissioner of Economic Security determined that because the policy manual that Hicks Trucking gave Huston when he was hired stated in bold print that he would be paid for “settlement miles,” he cannot now claim that Hicks Trucking misrepresented the method of payment. Therefore, Huston did not have a good reason caused by the employer for quitting. We affirm.
Hicks Trucking Company employed Huston as an over-the-road truck driver from July 6, 2000, through August 18, 2000. When Huston inquired about employment, Hicks Trucking sent him a professional driver wage package, which was an information packet that described the company’s benefits package. The package contained a summary sheet, which stated that “[s]tarting wages are twenty-seven and one-half cents ($.275) per mile for all miles, loaded and deadhead.” The .275 had been crossed out and replaced with .29. The change was initialed by a Hicks Trucking employee.
When Hicks Trucking hired Huston, it provided him with a policy and procedure manual. The first sentence in the section titled “driver wages,” under the subheading “regular wages,” stated that “[s]tarting wages are twenty-eight cents ($.28) per mile for all settlement miles, loaded and deadhead.” Huston signed the following statement at the end of the policy and procedure manual:
I have read and understand the preceding summary and am familiar with each of the requirements set forth in its contents and will abide by them. I am also aware that this summary of duties and requirements is a general guideline and that there will be other extraordinary circumstances which may require that there will be other duties which must be performed on the part of a driver in addition to those outlined in the above report. Therefore, this is not to be considered an all encompassing or totally limited description of my job responsibilities. I understand that my employment is at will and that I may be terminated at any time for any reason. I understand that nothing in these policies constitutes a contract between me and the company.
The term “settlement miles” was not defined in the policy and procedure manual. Hicks Trucking makes no claim that the term “settlement miles” was defined in other documents provided to Huston or that anyone advised Huston of the term’s meaning when he began employment. Huston testified that although he signed the statement that he had read the policy and procedure manual, he had not actually read the manual.
Settlement miles are calculated using a computer-routing system. A trip’s starting point, destination, and any stops along the way are entered into a computer, and the computer determines the route and mileage for the trip. A driver is free to use a different route but will be paid for settlement miles, not actual odometer miles, regardless of whether settlement miles are more or fewer than odometer miles.
When Huston was paid, he compared his paychecks to his logbook of actual mileage and realized that he was not being paid for all of the miles he drove. Huston complained to dispatchers, a sales manager, and the general manager about the discrepancy. They explained that Hicks Trucking pays its drivers according to routes and mileage generated by a computer. Huston quit his job because he was not being paid for actual miles driven.
On appeal, this court reviews the commissioner’s representative’s decision, not that of the unemployment law judge. Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995). 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). But whether an employee had a good reason caused by the employer for quitting is a question of law that this court reviews de novo. Kehoe v. Minnesota Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 568 N.W.2d 889, 890 (Minn. App. 1997).
An employee who quit employment shall be disqualified from all unemployment benefits unless the employee “quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2000).
(a) A good reason caused by the employer for quitting is a reason:
(1) that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible; and
(2) that is significant and would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment.
(b) If an applicant was subjected to adverse working conditions by the employer, the applicant must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before that may be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting.
(c) A substantial adverse change in the wages, hours, or other terms of employment by the employer shall be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting unless the change occurred because of the applicant's employment misconduct.
Id., subd. 3 (2000).
Huston argues that paying him for settlement miles subjected him to adverse working conditions under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(b). Huston argues that the ten percent discrepancy between his actual miles and settlement miles, considered in light of the absence of evidence showing the reasonableness of the routes selected by the computer, indicates that the computer-selected routes must have been unreasonable. Huston, however, testified only that he traveled “whichever [route] I think is the shortest.” He presented no evidence showing how he made that determination or showing the routes he used. The evidence in the record is insufficient to show that paying drivers according to settlement miles constituted adverse working conditions.
Even if paying Huston for settlement miles subjected him to adverse working conditions, an employee who is subjected to adverse working conditions must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before that may be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(b). Although Huston complained to dispatchers and managers that he was not being paid for actual mileage, he did not give Hicks Trucking a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions. The record shows that each time Huston complained, he complained to a different person, and the record contains no evidence that he challenged their explanations that Hicks Trucking pays its drivers based on settlement miles. Huston admitted that he did not tell anyone that he believed that being paid for settlement miles shorted him on his pay, and the record contains no evidence that he advised a Hicks Trucking employee of his belief that the computer-selected routes might be unreasonable. Regarding Huston’s complaint to a manager about mileage generated within city limits, the manager said the company would look into it, and there is no evidence that Huston attempted to pursue the matter further.
Huston next argues that payment based on settlement miles could violate minimum-wage laws. See Miller v. International Express Corp., 495 N.W.2d 616, 618 (Minn. App. 1993) (employee has good cause to quit when the employer refuses to pay a statutorily mandated wage). Huston contends that a road-construction detour, for example, could result in payment for settlement miles being less than minimum wage. The record, however, contains no evidence regarding Hicks Trucking’s policy when a computer-selected route was unavailable or otherwise unreasonable and no evidence that Hicks Trucking did in fact ever violate minimum-wage laws. Compare Miller, 495 N.W.2d at 617-18 (employee testified that airport shuttle drivers, who were paid from a pool, often received less than minimum wage and presented a list showing all pool shares during a period of almost two months; employer did not present any contrary evidence and conceded that shuttle drivers were not guaranteed a minimum wage). The evidence in the record is insufficient to show that payment for settlement miles violated minimum-wage laws.
Huston next argues that paying him only for settlement miles constituted a substantial adverse change in his wages under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(c). Huston urges this court to hold that Hicks Trucking had a contractual obligation to pay him for actual miles based on the statement that starting wages are 29 cents “per mile for all miles, loaded and deadhead,” which appeared in the professional driver wage package provided to Huston when he inquired about employment. The professional driver wage package was a general information packet provided by Hicks Trucking to prospective applicants for employment. When Hicks Trucking hired Huston, it provided him with a policy and procedure manual that explained in greater detail the information contained in the professional driver wage package, and Huston signed a statement expressly agreeing to abide by each of the requirements in the policy and procedure manual. The policy and procedure manual stated that drivers would be paid 28 cents “per mile for all settlement miles, loaded and deadhead.” Under these circumstances, the professional wage driver package did not create a contractual obligation on the part of Hicks Trucking. See Martens v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 616 N.W.2d 732, 741-42 (Minn. 2000) (discussing test for determining whether a provision in an employee manual constitutes a unilateral contract of employment), rehearing denied (Minn. Oct. 30, 2000).
We recognize that Huston was confused about Hicks Trucking’s method of paying its drivers and that his confusion resulted from the ambiguous documents drafted by Hicks Trucking, neither of which explained how mileage would be calculated. Nonetheless, Huston did not have a good reason caused by Hicks Trucking for quitting employment. As the commissioner’s representative concluded:
When [Huston] was actually hired he was given a policy sheet that specifically stated that he would be paid for “settlement miles,” with the term “settlement miles” in boldface print. [Huston] signed a statement that he had read and understood this. In his letter of appeal [Huston] states that he “just signed, but did not read, these papers.” [Huston] was responsible for knowing and understanding the contents of what he was signing. He cannot now claim that there was a misrepresentation by the employer when he did not bother to read what he was signing. If he did not understand the term “settlement miles” (which was emphasized by being placed in boldface print), he had an obligation to find out what it meant, rather than assuming that it meant odometer miles.
Hicks Trucking had no reason to know that Huston was confused about the meaning of the term “settlement miles.” The commissioner’s representative properly concluded that Huston was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.