This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Commissioner of Economic Security
File No. 692801
Angela R. Dawson, 2710 Thomas Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411 (pro se relator)
Minnegasco, Reliant Energy Resources Corp., Attn: Mr. Fahey, 800 LaSalle Avenue, Box 59038, Minneapolis, MN 55459 (respondent employer)
Linda A. Holmes, Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Wright, Judge.
Relator challenges the decision by the commissioner’s representative that she was not qualified to receive unemployment-compensation benefits because she had been discharged for misconduct. We affirm.
Angela R. Dawson (relator) worked for Minnegasco (employer) from June 1995 until April 26, 2001, when she was terminated from her position as a public-relations specialist. Relator’s employment required her to periodically drive vehicles owned by employer. In January 1998, relator’s driver’s license was suspended for failure to pay a judgment for damages that resulted from an accident involving a car registered to her. Her license was reinstated in May 1998 when relator entered into an agreement to pay the judgment. Her license was suspended again in November 1998 when she defaulted on the payments.
In May 1999, relator was stopped by a police officer for a driving violation, and relator received a citation for both the traffic violation and for driving while her license was suspended. Relator failed to appear for a court date, which resulted in issuance of a warrant for her arrest.
Relator continued to drive employer-owned vehicles after she received the citation for driving after suspension. Employer learned of the driver’s-license suspension and informed relator in January 2001 that she needed to provide information about the suspension and any progress toward reinstatement of her license. Relator insisted that her license was not suspended but failed to provide the information requested. She claimed that personal problems kept her from responding and that documentation had been destroyed. She provided unrelated documentation concerning vehicle registration. Relator was terminated from her employment.
Relator filed for unemployment benefits. The Minnesota Department of Economic Security approved relator’s request for benefits. Employer appealed. After the hearing, an unemployment-law judge affirmed the department’s determination, finding that relator had not been discharged for employment misconduct. Employer appealed to the commissioner. The commissioner’s representative reversed the decision of the unemployment-law judge, finding that relator was discharged for employment misconduct and was therefore disqualified from receiving any unemployment benefits. This appeal followed.
Appellate review in economic-security cases is narrow. McGowan v. Executive Express Transp. Enters., Inc., 420 N.W.2d 592, 594 (Minn. 1988). Decisions of the commissioner’s representative are accorded particular deference. Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995).
An individual discharged for misconduct is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 4(1) (2002). Whether an employee has engaged in disqualifying misconduct is a mixed question of fact and law. McCourtney v. Imprimis Tech., Inc., 465 N.W.2d 721, 724 (Minn. App. 1991). The determination of whether the employee committed a particular act or acts is a question of fact. Tilseth v. Midwest Lumber Co., 295 Minn. 372, 375, 204 N.W.2d 644, 645-46 (1973); Scheunemann v. Radisson S. Hotel, 562 N.W.2d 32, 34 (Minn. App. 1997). But whether the act or acts constitute misconduct is a question of law on which appellate courts are “free to exercise [their] independent judgment.” Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).
The factual findings of the commissioner’s representative are viewed in the light most favorable to the decision and will not be disturbed if evidence in the record reasonably tends to sustain those findings. Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996). When witness credibility and conflicting evidence are at issue, the court defers to the representative’s ability to weigh the evidence and make those determinations. Whitehead v. Moonlight Nursing Care, Inc., 529 N.W.2d 350, 352 (Minn. App. 1995). The court defers to the commissioner’s representative even where the commissioner’s representative is reviewing decisions of unemployment law judges, whose findings may involve witness credibility. Lolling, 545 N.W.2d at 377.
The commissioner’s representative found that relator’s driver’s license was suspended on November 13, 1998, after she defaulted on a payment agreement that relator had entered into to pay a judgment against her for damages caused by an accident involving a vehicle registered to her. The commissioner’s representative found that relator received two citations during a traffic stop in May 1999. One of the citations was for driving after suspension. Relator failed to attend a court appearance on the citations, and a warrant for her arrest was issued. The commissioner’s representative found that relator knew she did not possess a valid driver’s license, failed to notify the employer of that fact and drove the employer’s vehicles without a valid license. The commissioner’s representative found that relator was discharged from her position with employer because she had driven the employer’s vehicles knowing she did not have a valid driver’s license, contrary to the employer’s policy.
Relator admits that her license was suspended but argues that the evidence does not sustain the finding that she knowingly violated the employer’s policy. She claims she did not receive her mail during the time of her license suspension and therefore was unaware of the suspension of her license. The evidence establishes, however, that, at least by May 1999, when relator was personally issued a citation for driving after suspension, she was aware that her license was suspended, but withheld that information from the employer. Evidence reasonably sustains the commissioner’s representative’s factual findings.
Misconduct disqualifying an employee from receiving unemployment benefits includes:
(1) any intentional conduct, on the job or off the job, that disregards the standards of behavior that an employer has the right to expect of the employee or disregards the employee’s duties and obligations to the employer; or
(2) negligent or indifferent conduct, on the job or off the job, that demonstrates a substantial lack of concern for the employment.
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a) (2002).
The record includes a copy of employer’s “Company Driver Policy,” (effective 9/1/00), setting out the employer’s requirements for employees to drive company vehicles. The policy provides that operation of “any company vehicle without all current driver licenses and certifications * * * may result in disciplinary action.” The policy requires that an employee
[r]eport notices of license restriction, suspension, or revocation action from any federal, state, county or local authority, to the immediate supervisor at or before the beginning of the next scheduled work period and prior to driving a vehicle on Company business.
Relator did not comply with the employer’s policy. She continued to drive company vehicles after she knew her license was suspended and attempted to mislead employer when asked about the status of her license. The evidence in the record is sufficient to support the finding of misconduct.