This opinion will be unpublished and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
Department of Economic Security
File No. 1077401
Robert L. Bach, Eric J. Riensche, Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon & Vogt, P.A., 225 South Sixth Street, Suite 4200, Minneapolis, MN 55402-4302 (for relator)
Michael S. Sandberg, Chad A. Johnson, Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC, 10400 Viking Drive, Suite 560, Eden Prairie, MN 55344 (for respondent Northfield Dairy Queen)
Linda A. Holmes, Philip B. Byrne, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner of Economic Security)
Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
The commissioner’s representative determined that relator voluntarily quit her employment when, at her employer’s request, she wrote a letter stating that she was terminating due to her employer’s financial condition. Relator contends that (a) she did not voluntarily quit; and (b) even if she quit, it was for a good reason caused by her employer. Because relator’s employer asked her to write a resignation letter and told her that she no longer had a job, we reverse.
Relator Sharon Langeslag was the operations manager of respondent Northfield Dairy Queen from February 15, 2000, until March 22, 2001. Her salary was $52,000 per year. On March 20, 2001, relator met with respondent’s owner, Robert Manderfeld, and an accountant to review respondent’s finances. Apparently, the meeting revealed that respondent was expecting a loss in 2001. After the meeting, Manderfeld expressed concern about the Dairy Queen’s financial situation and stated, “I’m not going to risk losing the Dairy Queen.” The next day relator wrote Manderfeld a letter offering to take a 25% pay cut for reduced responsibilities. Manderfeld responded that he had “bad news,” “he couldn’t continue with the position.” He asked her “what will you do” and told her to “put something in writing about the position not being there, about * * * not having a job.” On March 22, relator gave Manderfeld a letter stating in relevant part, “This will serve as notice, of my intent to terminate my employment based on your financial situation.” The Dairy Queen continued to operate under Manderfeld’s ownership after relator’s departure.
While employed, relator and her employer apparently had a close and candid relationship. Manderfeld named relator as the personal representative in his will. She disagreed with him regarding certain financial practices and withdrawals for his benefit and that of his son. In an unrelated criminal matter, a sheriff’s deputy interviewed Manderfeld shortly after the relator’s departure, and in this context Manderfeld stated, “[relator] was just trying to undermine my operation so I asked her to resign and she quit.”
Relator applied for and received unemployment compensation benefits from April 18, 2001, until September 3, 2001. The employer did not contest the benefits, did not appear at any of the hearings, and presented no evidence to rebut the relator’s testimony. On September 21, the Department of Economic Security determined that relator was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits and that it had overpaid her by $8,967. In November 2001, an unemployment law judge affirmed relator’s disqualification. In January 2002, the commissioner’s representative affirmed her disqualification, reasoning that (1) by using the words “my intent to terminate” in her letter, relator voluntarily quit her job; and (2) an employer’s financial difficulty is not a good reason to quit caused by the employer. The commissioner also found evidence of unhappiness and friction in the relationship between the relator and Manderfeld.
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). Whether an employee quit or was fired is a question of fact, but determination of what is a good cause to quit is a question of law that must be applied to facts. Goodwin v. BPS Guard Servs., Inc., 524 N.W.2d 28, 29 (Minn. App. 1994).
“Minnesota unemployment compensation laws are remedial in nature” and should be liberally construed. Wood v. Menard, Inc., 490 N.W.2d 441, 443 (Minn. App. 1992). “The legislature intended to assist those who are unemployed through no fault of their own.” Id. Thus, “[d]isqualification provisions are narrowly construed.” Id. 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 and Supp. 2001). “A quit from employment occurs when the decision to end the employment was * * * the employee’s.” Id., subd. 2(a) (Supp. 2001). An employee quits when she “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). But a discharge
occurs when any words or actions by an employer would lead a reasonable employee to believe that the employer will no longer allow the employee to work in any capacity.
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 5(a) (2000). And a good reason to quit caused by the employer is one that is (1) “directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible;” and (2) “significant and would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit.” Id., subd. 3(a)(1), (2) (2000).
Neither party bears any burden of proof in unemployment compensation proceedings. See Minn. Stat. § 268.069, subd. 2 (2000) (“An applicant’s entitlement to unemployment benefits shall be determined based upon that information available without regard to any common law burden of proof. * * * There shall be no presumption of entitlement or nonentitlement to unemployment benefits.”); see also Minn. Stat. § 268.101, subd. 2(d) (2000 and Supp. 2001) (providing that disqualification shall be based on information provided by the applicant, the employer, or “any other source, without regard to any common law burden of proof”); Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 1(b) (2000) (“The evidentiary hearing shall be conducted by an unemployment law judge without regard to any common law burden of proof as an evidence gathering inquiry and not an adversarial proceeding.”).
Relator claims that she drafted her termination letter to comply with Manderfeld’s request for her resignation due to Dairy Queen’s finances. The commissioner argues that (1) relator quit because she was personally frustrated with Manderfeld; (2) relator had always known about Manderfeld’s cash-flow and management problems; and (3) relator was not a credible witness at the hearing.
We conclude that relator submitted her resignation letter only because her employer told her to write a letter. Manderfeld was eliminating relator’s job and would no longer continue employing her. The record shows that relator offered to reduce her salary, but Manderfeld refused. Then, Manderfeld told relator that he could not “continue with the position” and that she should “put something in writing” about her position ending. Moreover, Manderfeld’s statement to the sheriff about asking for relator’s resignation is very revealing about Manderfeld’s view of the situation. He did not dispute relator’s testimony, offered no evidence to suggest a contrary version of events, and did not file a brief in this appeal. Thus, the record shows that relator did not voluntarily quit.
There is not substantial evidence to support the commissioner’s determination. The commissioner’s finding of unhappiness and friction in the employment relationship lacks credible support in the record. There was no evidence that relator’s frustration over Manderfeld’s business practices would cause her to quit a $52,000 per year job. Furthermore, relator’s employer never disputed her testimony. Because the record shows that relator quit because her employer told her that her job was over and that she should put something in writing, the letter of termination was not a voluntary quit. We find no substantial basis in the record for relator’s disqualification.