This opinion will be unpublished and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
Sharon A. Lyons,
Professional Claim Administrators Inc.,
Commission of Economic Security,
Department of Economic Security Appeal
File No. 9262 02
Sharon A. Lyons, 2665 Highway 10 Northeast, Apartment 105, Mounds View, MN 55112-4050 (pro se relator)
Charles R. Shreffler, Shreffler Law Firm, P.A., 2116 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404-2606 (for respondent Professional Claim Administrators Inc.)
Lee B. Nelson, M. Kate Chaffee, Minnesota Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner of Economic Security)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this case, relator challenges the commissioner’s representative’s determination that she was not entitled to unemployment benefits because she did not quit for “good cause.” Because we conclude that the record adequately supports the commissioner’s representative’s conclusion that the reasons for her quitting were not caused by her employer, we affirm.
Relator Sharon Lyons began her employment with Professional Claim Administrators Inc. in August 1999 and ended it in April 2002. She worked as an administrative assistant. Susan Lebert, Lyons’s supervisor, is also her aunt. Sometime around April 6, 2002, Lyons was told by a cousin that some members of her family had allegedly been abused as children by other family members approximately 30-35 years ago. When Lyons wanted to discuss this with her aunt at work, she testified “[Lebert] didn’t offer any support at all and I was very upset.” Later, Lebert allegedly yelled at Lyons for absenteeism. Lyons admitted, “my job performance it was not up to par.” Lebert allegedly told Lyons “you know this isn’t a part time job you need to be here and put your hours in you know.”
Around April 18, 2002, Lyons claims she had a conversation with a tenant, who rented office space in the building where she worked, in which the tenant allegedly told her that he was involved in the assault or drowning of a police officer approximately 20 years ago. Lyons said that the tenant initially claimed to have killed the officer, and then later stated that he had just “scared him.” This conversation upset Lyons. When asked if she informed her employer about this, Lyons responded that she did not. In her own words,
Do you really think I’m going to talk to my aunt about … you know she was already questioning you know, why aren’t you working you know, blah, blah, blah. Can I really go up and talk to her about this other thing that’s going on.
Later, when asked if there was something she wanted her employer to do about the tenant, she said no. Lyons called a cousin who is a police officer to check into what she should do. He apparently told her “there are reasons to quit jobs Sharon,” suggested she call the Department of Labor, and stated that he would inquire whether a cop was drowned approximately 20 years ago. Why he suggested calling the Department of Labor remains a mystery.
Around this time period, there were also personal problems between Lyons and her mother, who also worked at Professional Claim Administrators, Inc. Her mother came to relator’s home unannounced, after Lyons told her not to do so. When relator refused to allow her mother inside, her mother called the police, allegedly telling them Lyons was a danger to herself. The police came, but took no action after concluding Lyons was not a danger to herself.
Lyons’s stated reason for quitting is not entirely clear from her testimony. In essence it appears to be because “My mother works there, and I don’t feel safe around [the tenant who allegedly killed a cop 20 years ago] anymore, it’s just too weird I’m not gonna go back.” On a weekend, Lyons left a note at the office stating that she quit.
Lebert also testified about Lyons’s job performance and her quitting. According to Lebert, Lyons’s “absenteeism was getting to be excessive which I brought to her attention on two different occasions.” Lebert also testified that she threatened to “write her up” because of these problems, but did not do so before Lyons quit. Finally, Lebert also testified that the first time she was told anything about the tenant that had allegedly assaulted a police officer was in Lyons’s letter of resignation.
When asked if she had any questions for the other witnesses, Lyons said:
For them. No, I didn’t want to quit, but a lot of things happened in one month that I don’t know maybe somebody could have taken it, I can’t, it’s too much for me and to have no support it’s just impossible. I don’t want to end up thrown into a hospital you know because I’m going to work everyday and dealing with all this crap. That’s what would have ended up happening, I’m sure of it. Unhealthy work environment, I didn’t feel safe there. My whole person you know, I felt unsafe, and completely unsupported.
In his order dated September 24, 2002, the commissioner’s representative found that Lyons “was experiencing difficulties in her personal life arising from incidents unrelated to her employment.” He also found that the co-tenant told Lyons about the assault on the police officer. Finally, he found that “Lyons quit employment because of her personal problems and because she felt threatened by the co-tenant mentioned above.” Based on this, he concluded that Lyons problems were not related to her employment and that she had not give her employer a chance to remedy any possible adverse working conditions. As such, he concluded she was ineligible for unemployment benefits.
“We review the factual findings of the commissioner’s representative in the light most favorable to the decision and determine whether there is evidence in the record that reasonably tends to sustain those findings.” Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996) (citation omitted) (emphasis added).
The ultimate determination of whether an employee was properly disqualified from receiving reemployment insurance benefits, however, is a question of law upon which this court remains ‘free to exercise its independent judgment.’
Id. (citation omitted).
The statute provides:
If the reason reported for no longer working * * * is other than a layoff due to lack of work, that shall raise an issue of disqualification that the department shall determine.
Minn. Stat. § 268.101, subd. 1(a) (2002). Here, relator stated a variety of reasons, none of which were a layoff due to lack of work. Under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, entitled “Disqualification Provisions,” the statute states in relevant part:
Quit. An applicant who quit employment shall be disqualified from all unemployment benefits except when:
(1) the applicant quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer; * * *
Good reason caused by the employer defined.
(a) A good reason caused by the employer for quitting is a reason:
(1) that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible; and
(2) that is significant and would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment.
(b) If an applicant was subjected to adverse working conditions by the employer, the applicant must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before that may be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting.
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subds. 1, 3 (2002). Applying Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a)(1), it is not at all clear that any of relator’s complaints relate to her employment as an administrative assistant or that her employer is responsible for these problems. The testimony shows that relator felt uncomfortable or unsafe in her work environment. However, Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(b), requires the employee to inform the employer of any adverse working conditions, which she admits she did not.
Relator, in her pro se brief, argues that she had a significant reason to quit her job that was directly related to her employment and that there was nothing her employer could do to remedy the situation. In addition, she argues that she had a serious illness/injury and that “the employer did nothing to change their (sic) own attitudes and abusive behaviors; therefore discussing and resolving problems became impossible.” However, in her initial filing, relator responded “None” when asked what illness or disability made her quit. She went on to add:
Although my supervisor Sue Lebert, who is my aunt has shown me very clearly at times of serious family strife / grief which she is well aware of; no compassion. Her response being “I have a business to run.”
The factual findings of the commissioner’s representative are supported by the record. Relator quit because she had personal problems with her co-workers and a tenant who rented office space in the building. While these may be valid reasons to seek other employment, they are not the fault of her employer. The record shows that relator’s problems with her co-workers, particularly her mother and aunt, were fueled by relator’s and her cousin’s allegations of abuse in their family. While tragic if true, the allegations and the personal conflict they created are unrelated to her employer. The only issues relating to her employment in the record show that Lebert told her she might be written up for absenteeism that was “getting excessive.”
There is evidence of significant tensions between relator and her mother. The record doesn't show what caused these tensions, but no evidence suggests, nor has relator alleged, that it was in any way work-related. These tensions led to relator refusing to let her mother into relator’s home and her mother calling the police. While this situation is unfortunate for relator and her family, none of these are the fault of Professional Claim Administrators Inc.
Finally, relator states that another tenant acted “flirtatious” and “she didn’t like it.” The person who allegedly acted “flirtatious” was a tenant in the building and not directly related to her employment. As well, the record does not show that relator reported this activity, now intimated to be sexual harassment, to her employer beyond saying that that she wished her boss hadn’t rented space to him.
Viewing the record in its totality, there is support for the findings of the commissioner's representative.