This opinion will be unpublished and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
Annette M. Hattemer,
Pepin Manufacturing, Inc.,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Department of Economic Security
File No. 937101
Annette Hattemer, 22566 310th Avenue, Aitkin, MN 56431 (pro se relator)
Linda A. Holmes, Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner)
Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Wright, Judge.
On appeal from the commissioner’s denial of unemployment benefits based on the lack of good cause for separation from employment attributable to employer under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2000), Hattemer argues that she did not voluntarily terminate her employment for personal reasons, but due to her employer’s failure to act in response to her complaints of harassment by coworkers. We affirm.
Relator Annette Hattemer started her employment with respondent-employer Pepin Manufacturing, Inc. (Pepin) in September 1996. In February 2001, Hattemer reported to her supervisor that a coworker called her derogatory names. Another incident of name-calling directed at Hattemer by the same coworker occurred on May 2, 2001. Following this, Hattemer went to her office and started writing a note to her supervisor about the incident. At this time the supervisor came to her office, and Hattemer told him in person what had happened and showed him her note. Hattemer also told her supervisor that she would not work for a company that allowed this kind of behavior. When she later inquired regarding what had been done about the coworker, the supervisor told her that the coworker received an oral warning. Hattemer reported no further harassment by this worker.
Hattemer also complained to her supervisor that male employees frequently swore and yelled while working in the vicinity of her office. The owner of the business offered to give Hattemer more authority to discipline the men in the factory area. Hattemer, however, declined to accept more authority because she felt that, as a woman, the men would not listen to her.
On May 14, 2001, Hattemer put her home on the market for sale. Her supervisor called her sometime on June 22, 2001, and asked her about some gossip in the office relating to her decision to sell her home and quit her job. Following this conversation, Hattemer turned in a letter of resignation, in which Hattemer stated that she quit her employment for four reasons: harassment (name-calling), wages, lack of respect, and not being allowed to change her hours. She indicated that her last day of work would be July 25, 2001. The closing on her home occurred on or about July 27, 2001. Following the sale of her home, Hattemer moved to Aitkin, Minnesota, to live with her boyfriend whom she married shortly thereafter.
Finding that Hattemer failed to establish that the coworker’s use of profane language toward her was the reason for her separation from employment, the commissioner determined on April 3, 2002, that Hattemer is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. This appeal followed.
This court reviews the commissioner’s decision on the record and applies a narrow standard of review. White v. Metro. Med. Ctr., 332 N.W.2d 25, 26 (Minn. 1983). The commissioner’s findings are “viewed in the light most favorable to the decision, and if there is evidence reasonably tending to sustain them, they will not be disturbed.” Id. (citation omitted).
An employee who quits employment is disqualified from unemployment benefits unless the employee quit because of a good reason caused by the employer. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2000). Whether an employee quit for good cause is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Kehoe v. State, Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 568 N.W.2d 889, 890 (Minn. App. 1997). “Good cause” is a reason for quitting that is “substantial, reasonable, and compelling, not imaginary, trifling, or whimsical.” Id. (citation omitted). The standard is “reasonableness as applied to the average man or woman, and not to the supersensitive.” Hein v. Precision Assocs., Inc., 609 N.W.2d 916, 918 (Minn. App. 2000) (quoting Ferguson v. Dep’t of Employment Servs., 311 Minn. 34, 44 n.5, 247 N.W.2d 895, 900 n.5 (1976)). “A good personal reason [to quit] does not equate with good cause.” Edward v. Sentinel Mgmt. Co., 611 N.W.2d 366, 368 (Minn. App. 2000) (quotations omitted), review denied (Minn. Aug. 15, 2000).
Pepin argues that Hattemer quit her job for personal reasons–relocation and marriage–rather than for good cause. This argument, however, does not end our analysis in light of Hattemer’s complaints of harassment. “The law does not require that cause attributable to the employer be the sole reason for termination.” Burtman v. Dealers Disc. Supply, 347 N.W.2d 292, 294 (Minn. App. 1984) (holding that relator’s grievance regarding the employer's business practices was no less significant a factor in his separation than his desire to take care of his personal problems), review denied (Minn. Jul. 26, 1984). Therefore, the determination of whether “good cause” attributable to Pepin prompted Hattemer to quit her job turns on whether Hattemer’s decision to quit was a result of the harassment.
Harassment by fellow employees constitutes good cause to quit. Tru-Stone Corp. v. Gutzkow, 400 N.W.2d 836, 838 (Minn. App. 1987). An employee subjected to harassment has the burden of demonstrating that he or she gave the employer notice of the harassment and that the employer failed to take timely and appropriate action. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(b) (2000); Tru-Stone Corp., 400 N.W.2d at 838.
The parties do not dispute that Hattemer was harassed by her coworker. Her supervisor admitted that incidents of name-calling occurred in February and May 2001. Name-calling constitutes harassment within the meaning of good cause attributable to the employer. See Tru-Stone Corp., 400 N.W.2d at 839 (employee had good cause to quit due to name-calling by fellow employees). Here, the coworker not only called relator names, but in doing so used unsavory language. Thus, we must decide whether Pepin provided Hattemer with assistance by taking timely and appropriate action. See Biegner v. Bloomington Chrysler/Plymouth, Inc., 426 N.W.2d 483, 486 (Minn. App. 1988) (holding that where manager’s response to harassment was “timely and appropriate” there was no good cause to quit).
In Biegner, the court found the employer’s actions appropriate where the manager issued oral warnings to salesmen to stop making derogatory remarks. Id. In contrast,anemployer’s action was not an adequate response to the harassment where he reprimanded both employees and told them to “learn to get along.” Tru-Stone Corp., 400 N.W.2d at 838; see also Wetterhahn v. Kimm Co., 430 N.W.2d 4, 6-7 (Minn. App. 1988) (the employer failed to issue oral warnings and apply the standard company disciplinary procedure, instead promoting the harassing coworker to a supervisory position).
In this case, the supervisor admitted that he knew about the incidents and that he tried to correct the situation by giving the harassing coworker oral warnings. There were no further incidents of name-calling after the warnings in response to the incident in May. Hattemer quit two months later. Based on this record, we conclude that even though the harassment did occur, the supervisor took appropriate action that was effective in stopping the harassment. Therefore, Hattemer’s decision to quit her job was not prompted by good cause attributable to Pepin.
Hattemer next argues that she felt a lack of respect and bad attitude from other employees. She testified that she informed her supervisor about male employees swearing and yelling around her office and that this situation made her uncomfortable. The supervisor attempted to deal with this situation by giving Hattemer the authority to discipline the workers. While this course of action is not appropriate for dealing with harassment issues, see Peppi v. Phyllis Wheatley Cmty. Ctr., 614 N.W.2d 750, 752 (Minn. App. 2000) (holding that the employer may not defer to the complaining employee the decision to initiate disciplinary action), the record does not establish that the generalized swearing and yelling constitute harassment. Hattemer does not contend that the men’s swearing and yelling was directed at her, only that they were swearing and yelling while working in the vicinity of her office. This alone does not constitute harassment. Cf. Wetterhahn, 430 N.W.2d at 6 (harassment found where co-worker continuously swore and yelled at relator); Tru-Stone Corp., 400 N.W.2d at 839 (harassment found where coworkers’ conduct was directed at the employee, including drawings with profanities written underneath). Moreover,
“good 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) (citations omitted).
There is no proof that Pepin failed to address Hattemer’s concerns or failed to take timely and appropriate action regarding the harassment. Hattemer, therefore, has failed to establish that she quit her job for good cause attributable to her employer. The commissioner’s decision that Hattemer does not qualify for unemployment benefits is affirmed.