This opinion will be unpublished and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
Stevens Super Valu,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Filed May 28, 2002
Department of Economic Security
Agency File No. 475701
Amy Blythe Mohberg, Central Minnesota Legal Services, P.O. Box 1598, 830 West St. Germain, Suite 309, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for relator)
Philip B. Byrne, Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Foley, Judge.
Relator challenges the commissioner’s representative’s decision that she was not eligible for unemployment benefits, contending that she did not quit her job or, in the alternative, that she quite for a good reason attributable to her employer. Because we find that relator quit her job and that the conflict with her supervisor was not good cause attributable to her employer, we affirm.
Relator Honey Ly began work at Stevens Super Valu in August 2000. On March 12, 2001, she was stocking a fruit display when her supervisor asked her to water some plants. Relator told him she would get to it after she finished the display. The supervisor then became upset, yelled at relator, and grabbed a shopping cart for the purpose of watering the plants himself. When he grabbed the cart, it made a loud noise and startled relator. Relator was upset and began to cry, and told the cashier she was taking a break. The supervisor asked relator to come back and discuss the incident, but she left the store. The day manager called relator and asked her to come back to work. She stated she would be back, but did not return or call.
Relator returned the next day, but was unable to find her supervisor in his office. The day manager asked to speak with her. Relator claims that the day manager gave her an ultimatum: apologize to the supervisor or be fired. The day manager claims that she did not have the authority to fire relator and would have allowed her to continue working even if no apology were made. The commissioner’s representative found that “[t]he day manager told [relator] that in order to continue in the employment, she would have to apologize.” Relator says that she was uncomfortable being alone with her supervisor and with having the day manager accompany her to talk to him. She did not apologize and left the store.
The Department of Economic Security denied relator’s application for unemployment benefits. After a hearing, the unemployment law judge reversed the department’s decision and found that relator was eligible for benefits because she was discharged for a reason other than employee misconduct. At the hearing, relator testified that she had seen the supervisor angry with other workers before, but this was “the first time [he’d] ever been so violent towards” her. The commissioner’s representative reversed the unemployment law judge and held that relator was disqualified from receiving benefits because she quit her employment without good cause attributable to her employer. This appeal followed.
An employee who quits without good reason caused by the employer is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2000). On appeal, a reviewing court must examine the decision of the commissioner’s representative, rather than that of the unemployment judge. Kalberg v. Park & Recreation Bd., 563 N.W.2d 275, 276 (Minn. App. 1997).
A quit from employment occurs when the decision to end the employment was, at the time the employment ended, the employee’s. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 2 (2000). “Whether an employee has been discharged or voluntarily quit is a question of fact.” Midland Elec., Inc. v. Johnson, 372 N.W.2d 810, 812 (Minn. 1985) (citations omitted). The commissioner’s representative’s factual findings are viewed in the light most favorable to the decision and are not disturbed if evidence in the record reasonably tends to sustain them. Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996).
The commissioner’s representative found that relator quit when she “chose to leave.” Relator argues that she did not voluntarily quit. She compares her situation to the facts in Brown v. Port of Sunnyside Club, Inc., 304 N.W.2d 877 (Minn. 1981), and Armar Corp. v. Malinski, 362 N.W.2d 10 (Minn. App. 1985). In Brown, as relator was walking away from a heated conversation with the general manager, the general manager told him to keep on walking. This court found that relator reasonably inferred from this statement that he was involuntarily terminated. Brown, 304 N.W.2d at 878-79. Unlike Brown, no one told relator that she should not come back to the store. Actually, the day manager called relator at home and requested that she return. In Armar, respondent and a co-worker were unable to get along. They tendered their resignations and the employer told them that unless they could work out their differences, both resignations would be accepted. Respondent was willing to resolve the matter, but the co-worker refused. This court affirmed the commissioner’s representative’s decision that respondent did not quit of her own free will. Amar, 362 N.W.2d at 12-13. This case can also be distinguished from the present facts; unlike respondent in Armar, relator did not show any willingness to address her problem with her supervisor.
When relator returned to work, she was directed by the day manager to apologize to the supervisor or face termination. Relator left the store. This action was her decision, not the employer’s. Case law holds that an employee voluntarily quits when the employee “directly or indirectly exercises a free-will choice to leave the employment.” Shanahan v. Dist. Mem’l Hosp., 495 N.W.2d 894, 896 (Minn. App. 1993).
The record reasonably supports the commissioner’s representative’s finding that relator quit her employment.
A good reason caused by the employer is one “that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible,” is “significant,” and “would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit” rather than remain in the employment. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3 (a)(1), (2). Whether an employee quit for a good reason caused by the employer is a question of law reviewed de novo. Edward v. Sentinel Mgmt. Co., 611 N.W.2d 366, 367-68 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Aug. 15, 2000). An employee has the burden to show that the quit was for a good cause. Polley v. Gopher Bearing, 478 N.W.2d 775, 777 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Jan. 30 1992). Relator argues that the commissioner’s representative’s decision that she quit without good cause attributable to her employer was an error because of the supervisor’s actions and because the day manager unfairly asked her to apologize.
This court has held that conflicts with co-workers and supervisors do not, by themselves, constitute good cause to quit employment. See Haskins v. Choice Auto Rental, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 507, 512 (Minn. App. 1997) (stating proposition and citing earlier cases).
“[G]ood cause attributable to the employer” does not encompass situations where an employee experiences irreconcilable differences with others at work or where the employee is simply frustrated or dissatisfied with his working conditions.
Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986). Because relator testified that this was the first time she and the supervisor had a significant problem, it is questionable if she even had an irreconcilable difference with him.
This court has further held that an employee should report offensive conditions to “allow the employer an opportunity to correct the problem.” Ryks v. Nieuwsma Livestock Equip., 410 N.W.2d 380, 382 (Minn. App. 1987). Relator reported her problem with her supervisor to the day manager. However, she walked away from the supervisor after the incident when he was attempting to talk with her, and when she returned the next day, she left before speaking with him. Because relator did not allow the employer an opportunity to correct the problem, her conflict with her supervisor was not a good reason to quit caused by the employer.
Additionally, the day manager’s request that relator apologize to the supervisor was not good cause to quit. The day manager testified that she wanted relator to apologize for leaving the store the day before. She did not ask relator to apologize for the plant incident. Rather than try to discuss the incident with the supervisor, relator again left the store. Moreover, as the commissioner’s representative noted, an apology is not a “particularly burdensome” request. See Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3 (a)(2) (reason must be “significant”). An “average, reasonable worker” would have attempted to fix the situation rather than leave employment. See Minn. Stat. § 268.095. subd. 3(a)(2).
The commissioner’s representative did not err in finding that relator quit without a good reason attributable to her employer.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.