This opinion will be unpublished and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
Sandra L. Elzea,
E.A. Sween Co.,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Department of Economic Security
File No. 770001
Sandra L. Elzea, P.O. Box 67, Norwood, MN 55368-0067 (pro se relator)
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.
Respondent E.A. Sween Company employed relator Sandra Elzea as a customer service representative from June 1998 to June 25, 2001. In 1999, relator began to experience and document harassment by her coworker, which included screaming and dirty looks. In May 2000, relator complained to her supervisor about her coworker’s constant harassment. The supervisor and the vice president of human relations investigated relator’s allegations by speaking with the coworker and all other workers in relator’s department. The supervisor could not substantiate relator’s allegations through the other coworkers and believed that relator was partly responsible for the poor relationship. The coworker made similar complaints about relator, admitted that she had not been cordial to relator, agreed to improve her behavior, but refused to be friends with relator. Management met with both relator and the coworker and instructed them to reconcile or face consequences including possible termination. Management also offered the women a forum to discuss their problems; but both declined.
In February 2001, relator returned to the office following a three-week leave of absence for hernia surgery to find her department moved and her cubicle isolated from the rest of the customer service department. Relator alleges that she asked to move her cubicle closer to the rest of the department yet further from her coworker, but the customer service director refused. Relator, however, declined an opportunity to switch cubicles with a fellow employee because she “did not want to be a bother.” In May, the director asked relator three times if the relationship between her and the coworker had improved, and relator said that it had and did not complain further about her coworker. Relator contends that the situation did not get better but told management it had because she believed that management would not alleviate the situation based on its past conduct.
During her yearly review on June 4, the supervisor informed relator that she did not have enough vacation time accrued to take her preapproved vacation in October. Relator suggested that she would take the time without pay because she had already paid for the vacation. After the supervisor told her that doing so was not an option, relator said that she would have to quit. Relator did not complain about her coworker at the meeting. On June 5, relator signed a resignation letter with an effective date in October, which corresponded with her planned vacation. Relator contends that she was forced into signing the resignation letter, which her supervisor had written and that she did not inform management on June 5 that she was resigning in October.
On June 25, however, relator returned from a weeklong absence for gall bladder surgery and quit her job. On July 12, the Department of Economic Security disqualified relator from receiving benefits. Relator appealed, and an unemployment law judge reversed, finding that relator quit her employment because of a hostile work environment, which her employer permitted despite relator’s complaints and fragile health. The commissioner’s representative reversed, finding that relator quit because the employer would not allow her to go on a preapproved vacation and that she was not eligible for benefits. This appeal followed.
This appeal is over the sufficiency of the evidence to support the action of the commissioner’s representative. An appellate court reviews “the findings of the commissioner or the commissioner’s representative, not those of the referee.” Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995) (citing Semanko v. Dep’t of Employment Servs., 309 Minn. 425, 428, 244 N.W.2d 663, 665 (1976)). This court views the commissioner’s representative’s findings “in the light most favorable to the decision” and will not disturb those findings if there “is evidence reasonably tending to sustain them.” White v. Metro. Med. Ctr., 332 N.W.2d 25, 26 (Minn. 1983).
Relator claims that she quit her job for good cause because a coworker was harassing her and that this work situation exacerbated her health problems. Relator also claims that the employer was aware of this harassment and allowed it to continue for three years. Relator denies that her employer’s refusal to give her leave for extra vacation caused her to quit.
An employee who quits his or her employment is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits except when the employee “quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2000). Good reason to quit must be “directly related to the employment * * * for which the employer is responsible” and must be significant enough to “compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed.” Id., subd. 3(a)(1), (2) (2000). If an employee “was subjected to adverse working conditions by the employer,” the employee
must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before they may be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting.
Id., subd. 3(a)(2)(b) (2000). Good cause may be established if an employee has been harassed on the job and can demonstrate that she gave her employer notice of the harassment and an opportunity to correct the problem. Tru-Stone Corp. v. Gutzkow, 400 N.W.2d 836, 838 (Minn. App. 1987). If the employer causes the employee to expect that the harassment will be eliminated, the employee must keep the employer informed of continuing or additional harassment. Id.
Good cause attributable to the employer, however, does not include situations where an employee has irreconcilable differences with others at work or where an employee is frustrated with her working conditions. Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986); see also Trego v. Hennepin County. Fam. Day Care Ass’n, 409 N.W.2d 23, 26 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating that personality conflicts with supervisors do not constitute good cause).
The commissioner’s representative refused to label relator’s problems as harassment, finding that it was “nothing more than some sort of personality conflict.” The commissioner also found that relator failed to inform management of any additional concerns after her initial harassment allegations in May 2000. The commissioner instead found that relator quit because her employer refused to give her additional vacation time to take a preapproved vacation. The commissioner further noted that an employer who preapproves an employee’s vacation is not required to give time off when the employee uses additional vacation time in the interim.
The record supports the commissioner’s finding that relator had irreconcilable differences with her coworker that did not rise to the level of harassment. Although the record indicates that the coworker gave relator dirty looks and screamed at her, relator’s fellow employees could not substantiate relator’s detailed allegations of harassment. Furthermore, the coworker also complained about relator, indicating that both women contributed to their strained relationship. Because personality conflicts do not constitute good cause to quit, the commissioner properly found that relator quit without good cause.
Moreover, we observe that if the coworker’s behavior could constitute harassment, relator had to keep her employer informed of the harassment and give her employer an opportunity to correct the problem for it to be considered a good reason to quit caused by the employer. Relator told her supervisor about the harassment. But when the employer offered to provide a forum to resolve the problem, both relator and the coworker declined the employer’s offer. Moreover, after relator initially informed her employer of the problem, she failed to tell management of additional harassment. Because relator did not keep her employer informed, it was reasonable for the employer to assume that the problem had been corrected, especially when relator had told her supervisor on three separate occasions that the problem had been resolved.
In addition, there is evidence in the record to sustain the commissioner’s finding that relator quit when her employer refused to give her additional vacation time. In her own application filed with the department, relator explains that one of the reasons she quit was that her employer “[t]ook away approved vacation time.” Thus, the record as a while contains substantial evidence to support the commissioner’s determination that relator quit her employment without a good reason caused by the employer.