This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Tiger Oak Publications, Inc.,
Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development,
Filed August 19, 2003
Department of Employment and Economic Development
File No. 769402, 896202
Ioannis Niklas, 6473 Barrie Road, Edina, MN 55435-2301 (relator pro se)
Tiger Oak Publications, Inc., 251 1st Avenue North, Suite 401, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1669 (respondent)
Lee B. Nelson, M. Kate Chaffee, 390 Robert Street North, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent commissioner)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
Relator contends that the commissioner’s representative improperly found that relator was ineligible for benefits and wrongly concluded that relator failed, without good cause, to file continuing requests for unemployment benefits. Because there is evidence that reasonably tends to sustain the findings of the commissioner’s representative, we affirm.
In this certiorari appeal, relator Ioannis Niklas seeks review of two decisions by the commissioner’s representative; this court consolidated the appeals. Niklas was employed as an art director for respondent Tiger Oak Publications, Inc. from January 2001 until November 30, 2001. His salary was $40,000 per year. In September, 2001, Niklas told the company president, Craig Bednar, via e-mail, that he had another job offer at a substantially higher salary. In response, Bednar offered to pay Niklas $46,000 but Niklas did not accept the offer. Over the next two months, numerous e-mails were exchanged between Niklas and Bednar negotiating Niklas’s salary.
On October, 28, 2001, Niklas sent Bednar an e-mail stating that he was packing to move out and would send a letter indicating the reasons for his departure. Nevertheless, Niklas did not leave at that time or send a letter. The e-mails continued to flow between the parties detailing potential pay modifications and Niklas’s job plan. On November 23 or 26, 2001, Bednar sent Niklas an e-mail stating “[j]ust a reminder that your last day is the 30th of November.” On November 28, 2001, Niklas gave a letter to Bednar explaining that he would take the remaining three days of his employment off for personal reasons.
Niklas applied for unemployment benefits effective November 30, 2001. On December 19 and December 26, 2001, Niklas called TELECLAIM, the automated telephone information and payment system, and successfully filed requests for unemployment benefits. Niklas testified that when he contacted TELECLAIM the second time, the system told him that he could no longer receive benefits and prompted him to speak directly with an agent over the phone. Niklas said that he spoke with a representative from St. Cloud, and the agent told him that based on his INS records, he could not legally work in the country and he could no longer seek benefits. There is no record that Niklas called TELECLAIM between December 27, 2001 and May 9, 2002.
A hearing was held before an unemployment law judge on August 15, 2002 on the issue of whether Niklas voluntarily quit employment. The unemployment law judge concluded that Niklas was eligible for benefits and held that Niklas was discharged for reasons other than employee misconduct. Tiger Oak appealed and in a decision dated November 22, 2002, the commissioner’s representative reversed, concluding that Niklas voluntarily quit his employment without good cause attributable to Tiger Oak.
On the second issue of whether Niklas failed to file continuing requests for unemployment benefits, the commissioner’s representative affirmed the unemployment law judge’s decision that Niklas did not have an active benefit account from December 23, 2001 through February 23, 2002. The commissioner’s representative relied on the fact that “[t]he TELECLAIM transaction log clearly shows Ioannis Niklas did not call and enter his social security number on TELECLAIM at any time between December 27, 2001 and May 9, 2002.” The commissioner’s representative found Niklas’s contention that TELECLAIM would not accept his request to be not credible.
D E C I S I O N
Niklas contends that the commissioner’s representative ignored evidence, speculated on events, and reached a conclusion unsupported by the evidence. Niklas argues that he did not quit his employment and that the commissioner’s representative erred in finding that Niklas was ineligible for benefits.
“Whether an employee quit or was discharged is a question of fact.” Gonsior v. Alternative Staffing, Inc., 390 N.W.2d 801, 805 (Minn. App. 1986) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Aug. 27, 1986). Whether the employee had good reason to quit caused by the employer is a question of law. Edward v. Sentinel Mgmt. Co., 611 N.W.2d 366, 367 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Aug. 15, 2000). We review findings of fact in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s representative’s decision and will not disturb them if there is evidence that reasonably tends to sustain them. Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989). Reviewing courts exercise independent judgment with respect to questions of law. Id.
An employee who quits his or her employment is disqualified from all unemployment benefits unless one of the statutory exceptions applies. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1 (2002). But an employee who is discharged from employment shall receive unemployment benefits unless he or she engaged in employment misconduct or aggravated employment misconduct. Id., subd. 4 (2002).
We first address the issue of whether Niklas’s departure was a voluntary quit or a discharge. “A quit from employment occurs when the decision to end the employment was, at the time the employment ended, the employee’s.” Id., subd. 2 (2002). The test is whether the individual has exercised his own free will or choice in the separation. Seacrist v. City of Cottage Grove, 344 N.W.2d 889, 891 (Minn. App. 1984). A discharge occurs when the employer’s words or actions would lead a reasonable employee to believe that he or she is no longer allowed to work for the employer in any capacity. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 5 (2002). “An employee who seeks to withdraw a previously submitted notice of quitting shall be considered to have quit the employment if the employer does not agree that the notice may be withdrawn.” Id., subd. 2(c).
Here, the commissioner’s representative found that Niklas voluntarily quit his employment. The commissioner’s representative based this conclusion on the evidence that Niklas told Bednar that he would accept another job offer if not granted a comparable salary increase to the one offered. The commissioner’s representative stated that “[t]he evidence does not show the employer would not have allowed Niklas to continue working if Niklas had told the employer that he wanted to do so” and that “[t]he evidence shows Niklas quit because the employer would not meet his salary demands.”
This court looks to the record to determine whether there is evidence that reasonably tends to sustain the commissioner’s representative’s conclusion that Niklas quit voluntarily. See Ress, 448 N.W.2d at 523 (recognizing that appellate courtsreview findings of fact in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s decision). The record, including the voluminous e-mails between Niklas and Bednar, supports the finding that Niklas did not accept Bednar’s offer of a salary increase and that Niklas agreed to work until the end of November when the Minnesota Bride magazine was to be published. While there is arguably conflicting evidence in the record, our scope of review is limited, and we defer to credibility determinations made by the commissioner’s representative. See Jenson v. Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 617 N.W.2d 627, 631 (Minn. App. 2000) (stating that appellate courts defer to the commissioner’s representative’s credibility determinations), review denied (Minn. Dec. 20, 2000). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s representative’s decision, the evidence reasonably tends to sustain the commissioner’s representative’s finding that Niklas voluntarily quit his employment.
We next address whether Niklas had good reason to quit. A person will retain unemployment benefits even if he or she voluntarily quits employment if the person quit for a good reason caused by the employer. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1). Minnesota law provides:
(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, subd. 3(a), (b) (2002). The reason “must be real, not imaginary, substantial not trifling, and reasonable, not whimsical.” Ferguson v. Dep’t of Employment Servs., 311 Minn. 34, 44 n.5, 247 N.W.2d 895, 900 n.5 (1976) (quotation omitted). A good reason caused by the employer does not include situations where an 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).
The commissioner’s representative concluded that Niklas quit without good cause. The commissioner’s representative found that “[t]he evidence shows Niklas quit because the employer would not meet his salary demands.” While a reduction in wages or other adverse change may constitute good cause for an employee to quit, Niklas provides no law stating that a refusal by employer to increase wages constitutes good cause. See, e.g., Marty v. Digital Equip. Corp., 345 N.W.2d 773, 775 (Minn. 1984) (holding that good cause to quit exists where employee’s compensation and work assignments are unilaterally or adversely changed by employer); Cook v. Playworks, 541 N.W.2d 366, 368 (Minn. App. 1996) (recognizing that generally a substantial reduction in wages may constitute good cause); Porrazzo v. Nabisco, Inc., 360 N.W.2d 662, 663-664 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding that substantial increase in work without a salary increase constitutes good cause). Although the record suggests that Niklas may have quit, in part, due to frustration with working conditions and treatment, good cause attributable to the employer does not include irreconcilable differences with an employer or mere dissatisfaction with working conditions. Portz, 397 N.W.2d at 14. Therefore, we affirm the decision by the commissioner’s representative that Niklas is ineligible for benefits because he quit without good cause attributable to Tiger Oak. Because Niklas is not eligible for benefits, we do not reach the second claim concerning whether Niklas is ineligible for benefits during the period of December 23, 2001 though February 23, 2002 because he did not have an active benefit account and did not file continued requests for benefits.
 Niklas appealed the decision that he was not authorized to work in the United States and an unemployment law judge reversed, finding that Niklas had been authorized to work in the United States during the relevant time period and was eligible to receive benefits if otherwise entitled.