This opinion will be unpublished and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

A03-1262

 

Jane E. Andrist,

Relator,

 

vs.

 

City of Wanamingo,

Respondent,

 

Commissioner of Employment

and Economic Development,

Respondent.

 

Filed March 30, 2004

Affirmed

Hudson, Judge

 

Department of Employment

and Economic Development

File No. 5101 03

 

 

Jane E. Andrist, 567 Hill Avenue, Wanamingo, Minnesota 55983 (pro se relator)

 

Roger E. Petersen, Roger Petersen Law Office, 119 Sixth Street Southwest, Suite B, Rochester, Minnesota 55902 (for respondent city)

 

Lee B. Nelson, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101 (for respondent commissioner)

 

            Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Anderson, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HUDSON, Judge

Relator challenges the commissioner’s representative’s decisions that she quit her employment and that she did not have good cause to quit.  Because our standard of review is narrow and the record reasonably supports the commissioner’s representative’s findings that relator quit without good cause, we affirm.

FACTS

The City of Wanamingo employed relator Jane E. Andrist as a city clerk and treasurer from May 10, 1999, until January 1, 2003.  The city administrator directly supervised Andrist, but the city council had sole authority in all employment decisions and could discharge her only by a majority public vote of the five members.

            Some council members and the city administrator were dissatisfied with Andrist’s work, and the city attorney approached the mayor, who was also a member of the city council, and indicated that there were three council votes to terminate Andrist’s employment.  The attorney asked one of the councilmen to convince Andrist to resign and accept certain terms.  On December 15, 2002, the councilman told Andrist that the end of her employment was a “done deal,” which Andrist interpreted to mean that her employment termination was inevitable.[1]  The councilman advised Andrist of terms for a separation agreement.  Andrist added items to the severance package, including medical insurance and payment for sick and vacation time and agreed to accept the separation agreement.

            On December 16, 2002, a member of the city council asked Andrist if she was sure she wanted to resign.  Andrist responded that she did not want any “scars” on her record and she did not want something public that may hinder her from future employment.  Andrist prepared a notice for a special city council meeting to vote on whether to accept her resignation under the severance agreement.

            On the evening of December 16, 2002, the city council voted to accept Andrist’s resignation on a three-to-two vote.  Andrist was given a written copy of the separation agreement on December 19, 2002, which she signed on the next day.  The separation agreement provides that Andrist offered to resign her employment with the City of Wanamingo, the city council accepted Andrist’s resignation, and Andrist “represents that she enters into this Agreement freely and voluntarily.” 

Andrist applied for unemployment benefits and a department adjudicator initially determined that she was discharged from employment with the city for reasons other than employment misconduct and was not disqualified from receiving benefits.  The city appealed, and after a de novo hearing, a department unemployment law judge affirmed the initial determination.  The city appealed, and the commissioner’s representative issued the final decision finding that Andrist quit her employment and concluded that she is disqualified from unemployment benefits.  Andrist filed a writ of certiorari with this court.

D E C I S I O N

When reviewing the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s determination about an employee’s qualifications for unemployment benefits, we review the commissioner’s representative’s findings rather than the unemployment law judge’s findings.  Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995).  We have a narrow standard of review that requires us to view the commissioner’s representative’s findings in the light most favorable to the decision; the decision is not disturbed if the evidence reasonably tends to sustain the commissioner’s representative’s findings.  Schmidgall v. FilmTec Corp., 644 N.W.2d 801, 804 (Minn. 2002).  Further, this court defers to the commissioner’s representative’s ability to weigh conflicting evidence, and to make credibility determinations about proffered testimony.  Whitehead v. Moonlight Nursing Care, Inc., 529 N.W.2d 350, 352 (Minn. App. 1995); see also Jenson v. Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 617 N.W.2d 627, 631 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Dec. 20, 2000). 

            This court reviews findings of fact in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s decision, but exercises independent judgment with respect to questions of law.  Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).  The question of whether an employee voluntarily resigns is a fact question for the commissioner.  Shanahan v. Dist. Mem. Hosp., 495 N.W.2d 894, 896 (Minn. App. 1993).  Whether an employee had good cause to quit is a question of law that this court reviews de novo.  See Markel v. City of Circle Pines, 479 N.W.2d 382, 384 (Minn. 1992). 

Andrist argues that she was discharged and did not quit, and her discharge was not for employment misconduct.  Andrist contends that if she did quit it was for good cause attributable to her employer.  The city counters that there is reasonable evidence in the record to support the commissioner’s representative’s finding that Andrist quit her employment.  The city also contends that Andrist did not have a good reason caused by the employer for quitting.

I

The commissioner’s representative found that Andrist quit her employment.  The commissioner’s representative noted that at the time Andrist chose to resign, she could have continued with her employment because the city council had not taken any action to discharge her.  The commissioner’s representative also found that Andrist resigned from her employment and accepted the severance agreement because she believed that her termination was inevitable.  The commissioner’s representative found that instead of waiting for the council’s official action, Andrist voluntarily chose to quit in exchange for a severance package.

The record reasonably supports the commissioner’s representative’s findings that Andrist voluntarily quit her employment.  The record shows that Andrist signed the severance agreement, which provided that she understood the terms of the agreement and “she enter[ed] into this Agreement freely and voluntarily.”  Andrist testified that she “added one or two items” to the agreement, which were changes from the original terms proposed.  In addition, the record shows that there was no vote on whether Andrist should be discharged; in fact, Andrist testified that she was never discharged by the city council.  Andrist testified that she believed that her discharge was inevitable, but she acknowledged that she did not know that one of the city council members was undecided about what disciplinary action to take against her.  Although Andrist testified that she did not want to sign the agreement and was “forced to sign,” the commissioner’s representative found that Andrist resigned and accepted the severance agreement.  The commissioner’s representative made a credibility determination about Andrist’s testimony, to which this court defers.  See Jenson, 617 N.W.2d at 631.  Furthermore, the question of whether an employee voluntarily resigns is a fact question for the commissioner.  Shanahan, 495 N.W.2d at 896.

Considered in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s decision, the evidence reasonably tends to sustain the commissioner’s representative’s finding that Andrist quit her employment.

II

The commissioner’s representative noted that Andrist did not quit for good reason caused by the City of Wanamingo.

When an individual quits employment and does not come within one of the eight statutory exceptions including quitting for good reason caused by the employer, that individual is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2002).  A quit occurs when it was the employee’s decision to end the employment at the time the employment ended.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 2(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.”  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a).  The statute also provides that “[a]n employee who has been notified that the employee will be discharged in the future, who chooses to end the employment while employment in any capacity is still available, shall be considered to have quit the employment.”  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 2(b).

The record reasonably supports the commissioner’s representative’s findings that Andrist did not quit for good reason caused by the City of Wanamingo.  The record shows that Andrist speculated that her termination was inevitable.  However, the record also shows that the city council did not take any formal action to discharge Andrist.  Viewed in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s representative’s decision, the councilman’s statement that Andrist’s discharge “is a done deal” was at most notification that the city council would discharge her in the future.  Andrist was certainly in a difficult position.  But she was not a novice to city politics; and we conclude that a reasonable person employed by city government where the political winds and loyalties routinely shift, would not be compelled to quit and become unemployed because a lone councilman told her that her discharge was a “done deal.”  Moreover, the record is clear that Andrist chose to end the employment while employment in some capacity, however tenuous it may have been, was still available.  Thus, Andrist quit the employment.

In the light most favorable to the commissioner’s decision, the record reasonably sustains the commissioner’s representative’s findings that Andrist did not quit because of a good reason caused by her employer, and we affirm.

Affirmed.

 



[1] In fact, one of the council members, who Andrist thought would vote in favor of discharge, had not decided whether Andrist should be fired.