This opinion will be unpublished and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

A03-1744

 

Jeanne M. Lechner,

Relator,

 

vs.

 

Qualtech International Corp.,

Respondent,

 

Commissioner of Employment

and Economic Development,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed July 13, 2004

Affirmed

Hudson, Judge

 

Department of Employment and Economic Development

File No. 1473 03

 

Jeanne M. Lechner, 6716 West 82nd Street, Bloomington, Minnesota 55438-1235 (pro se relator)

 

David L. Vegemast, 15600 Wayzata Boulevard, Suite 305, Wayzata, Minnesota 55391-1409 (for respondent employer)

 

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

 

            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HUDSON, Judge

In this pro se certiorari appeal, relator seeks reversal of the commissioner’s representative’s decision that she was terminated for employment misconduct.  Because our standard of review is narrow, and because we defer to the commissioner’s representative’s ability to make credibility determinations, we affirm.

FACTS

            Relator Jeanne M. Lechner was employed by Qualtech International Corporation (Qualtech) from August 14, 2000, through December 20, 2002, as an office administrator.  Lechner’s supervisor was Joel Owens, Qualtech’s president.

            During Lechner’s employment, she became friends with another employee, Kim Favorito, who was terminated on November 20, 2002, under circumstances that were not amicable.  Lechner helped Favorito pack her personal items when Favorito was terminated.  Lechner inadvertently packed a business-related CD in Favorito’s personal items, and when Favorito discovered the CD she called Lechner to have it returned to Qualtech.  After Favorito was terminated she started her own business, which was in competition with Qualtech.

            Lechner was responsible for receiving and rerouting e-mail messages that were sent to the addresses of discharged employees.  The discharged employee’s e-mails were automatically forwarded to Lechner’s e-mail account for handling.  Lechner would forward any business-related e-mails to an appropriate person at Qualtech.  Lechner testified that if the e-mail was personal in nature, she would forward it to the discharged employee’s personal e-mail.

            On December 10, 2002, a message addressed to Favorito’s business e-mail address was delivered to Lechner’s inbox.  The e-mail was from a potential Qualtech customer whom Favorito had been pursuing while working at Qualtech, and the subject line was “FW: From the frozen tundra!”  The e-mail was in response to an earlier message from Favorito, where Favorito was asking the potential customer for information related to a possible business transaction.  Lechner forwarded the e-mail to Favorito’s personal e-mail address, with the note: “Kim, you need to tell them to change your email address lala.”  Lechner did not notify anyone at Qualtech about the e-mail.

            Owens later saw the e-mail and recognized it as one that would logically be part of Favorito’s efforts to prepare a quote on a sale to the potential customer.  When Owens realized that Lechner had forwarded this e-mail to Favorito, he consulted with other members of management about what to do, and the decision was made to discharge Lechner.  Lechner was discharged on December 20, 2002.

            Lechner had previously established a benefit account with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and a department adjudicator initially determined that Qualtech discharged Lechner for reasons other than employment misconduct and that Lechner was not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Qualtech appealed, and a department unemployment-law judge conducted a de novo hearing and reversed the initial determination, finding that Qualtech discharged Lechner for employment misconduct.  Lechner appealed, and a representative of the commissioner of the department (“commissioner’s representative”) issued the final agency decision, finding Lechner is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because Qualtech discharged her for employment misconduct.  Lechner 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 regarding 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 (Minn. Dec. 20, 2000).

Whether an employee is disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits because the employee was discharged for misconduct is a mixed question of law and facts.  Colburn v. Pine Portage Madden Bros., Inc., 346 N.W.2d 159, 161 (Minn. 1984).  The commissioner’s representative determines the fact question: whether the employee committed the alleged acts of misconduct.  Scheunemann v. Radisson S. Hotel, 562 N.W.2d 32, 34 (Minn. App. 1997).  We review de novo whether the employee’s actions constituted employment misconduct and disqualified the employee from receiving unemployment benefits under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subds. 4,[1] 6 (2002).  Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).

A person who is discharged for employment misconduct is not entitled to receive unemployment benefits.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 4(1) (2002).  Employment misconduct is “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.”  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a)(1) (2002).  Employment misconduct is also “negligent or indifferent conduct, on the job or off the job, that demonstrates a substantial lack of concern for the employment.”  Id., subd. 6(a)(2).

            Lechner argues that she did not commit employment misconduct.  Lechner notes that Qualtech had no formal procedure to follow for handling e-mails sent to former Qualtech employees and contends that if she recognized that the e-mail was from a Qualtech customer she would forward the e-mail to a Qualtech employee, but if the e-mail was personal, she would forward the e-mail to the former employee.  Lechner contends that she reviewed the subject line of the e-mail and believed that it was personal in nature.  Lechner testified that she did not review the content of the e-mail.

            The commissioner’s representative noted that Qualtech cited two reasons for discharging Lechner, the first being the CD that Lechner placed in Favorito’s packing box while helping Favorito pack her belongings, and the second being the e-mail that Lechner forwarded to Favorito.  The commissioner’s representative found that Lechner provided credible testimony that she did not recognize the significance of the CD that she placed in Favorito’s packing box.  The commissioner’s representative determined that Lechner’s actions with regard to the CD did not amount to employment misconduct.  But the commissioner’s representative found that Lechner’s testimony regarding the e-mail was “not credible.”  The commissioner’s representative noted that Qualtech provided persuasive testimony that Lechner knowingly forwarded a business-related e-mail to Favorito, who was then competing for business with Lechner’s employer.  The commissioner’s representative concluded that Lechner was discharged for employment misconduct and is disqualified from payment of unemployment benefits.

The record reasonably supports the commissioner’s representative’s findings that Lechner was discharged for employment misconduct.  The only item in the record for this court to review is the testimony of the various witnesses, because Lechner’s entire argument rests on her contention that she did not read the e-mail and believed that, due to the subject line, it was personal in nature.  But the commissioner’s representative specifically found that Lechner’s testimony was “not credible,” and this court defers to the commissioner’s representative’s ability to weigh conflicting evidence and to make credibility determinations about proffered testimony.  Whitehead, 529 N.W.2d at 352; see also Jenson, 617 N.W.2d at 631.  The record reasonably supports the commissioner’s representative’s finding that Lechner’s “forwarding of that e-mail evinced a serious violation of the standards an employer has the right to expect of an employee and a substantial lack of concern for her employment.”

Because the commissioner’s representative determined that Lechner’s testimony was not credible, and because this court defers to the commissioner’s representative’s ability to make credibility determinations, the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the decision, reasonably tends to sustain the commissioner’s representative’s findings.

Affirmed.

 



[1]The legislature amended this definition of misconduct effective August 1, 2003.  2003 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. Ch. 3, art. 2, § 13; see also Minn. Stat. § 645.02 (2002) (providing that unless otherwise specified, laws are effective August 1 of the year enacted).  Because relator was discharged in December 2002, the 2002 version of the law applies.  See Bray v. Dogs & Cats Ltd. (1997), 679 N.W.2d 182, 186 (Minn. App. 2004).