This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A04-1272

 

Marianne M. Yaggy,
Relator,

vs.

Advocates Against Domestic Abuse,
Respondent,

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development,
Respondent.

 

Filed May 17, 2005

Affirmed

Minge, Judge

 

Department of Employment and Economic Development

File No. 14960 03

 

 

Peter B. Knapp, Katherine Bischoff, William Mitchell College of Law, 875 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN  55105 (for relator)

 

Advocates Against Domestic Abuse, P.O. Box 153, Aitkin, MN 56431-0153 (respondent)

 

Lee B. Nelson, Linda A. Holmes, Department of Employment and Economic Development, E200 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner)

 

            Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Willis, Judge.

 

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

 

MINGE, Judge

 

            Relator brings a certiorari appeal of the determination by the commissioner’s representative that she is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits based on findings that she quit without a good reason caused by her employer and that her quit did not fit within the medical exception.  Because the findings that the employer attempted to resolve the workplace conflict and that relator failed to communicate her medical condition to her employer are adequately supported by the evidence, we affirm.

FACTS

 

Relator Marianne M. Yaggy worked for respondent Advocates Against Domestic Abuse (AADA) for eight years, until she resigned in July 2003.  Yaggy was one of two co-directors who ran the AADA and reported to a ten-member board of directors.  According to Yaggy, she resigned because the co-director’s behavior was intolerably affecting her health and quitting was medically necessary.  Yaggy was denied unemployment benefits and a telephone hearing was held before an unemployment law judge.

At this hearing, Yaggy testified that the first incident between herself and the co-director occurred in the spring of 2001, when she spoke to her co-director about a discrepancy in the co-director’s timecard.  After the conversation the co-director was upset and asked to meet Yaggy outside the office.  Yaggy stated that at that time she felt uncomfortable because the co-director told her to “shut up and just listen” and that “you have never seen me backed into a corner and, believe me, you never want to.”  Another incident which led to Yaggy’s resignation involved preparations for a fundraiser, in which the co-director procrastinated on her duties, accused Yaggy of “taking over” the event, arrived several hours late, and used a vulgar tone.

The AADA has a six-step grievance policy which involves: talking to the other employee involved, speaking to a supervisor, filing a written grievance with a supervisor, submitting the complaint to the human resource committee, addressing the complaint to the executive committee, and finally, if necessary, having the entire board address the issue.  Consistent with this policy, Yaggy reported these incidents to a board member in the fall of 2002, and the next day the board set up an all-staff meeting to discuss the issues Yaggy raised.  In December 2002, Yaggy spoke to several board members about the co-director’s behavior and the board arranged for a facilitator to meet with the co-directors.  Yaggy met with the facilitator several times, but felt that the issues were not being resolved.  However, Yaggy did not continue the grievance process because she did not file a written grievance.

Yaggy testified that as a result of the stress at work she experienced depression, anxiety, and panic attacks at work, and her psychologist diagnosed her with acute stress disorder.  But a board member testified that while the board was aware Yaggy was seeing a counselor, it was not aware that the purpose of the counseling was to deal with work-related stress. 

After considering the evidence presented by both parties, the unemployment law judge determined that Yaggy voluntarily quit her job and was not entitled to receive unemployment compensation benefits because AADA, as the employer, had responded to her complaints and she failed to give the board an opportunity to continue to correct any adverse working conditions.  Additionally, the unemployment law judge found that Yaggy did not quit because it was medically necessary, and even if it was medically necessary, she did not inform the employer of the illness and failed to seek reasonable accommodations.  Yaggy appealed and a commissioner’s representative affirmed, finding that Yaggy’s conflict with a co-worker did not constitute good cause to quit.  The representative reasoned that the evidence did not show that the employer’s action or inaction would cause a reasonable employee to quit and that Yaggy did not inform her employer about her serious illness or request any accommodations.  Yaggy appeals by writ of certiorari

D E C I S I O N

 

“We review the commissioner’s factual findings in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s decision and will not disturb them as long as there is evidence that reasonably tends to sustain those findings.”  Schmidgall v. Filmtec Corp., 644 N.W.2d 801, 804 (Minn. 2002).  We generally defer to the commissioner’s representative’s factual findings, but we exercise independent judgment with respect to questions of law.  Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).

An employee who quits her employment is not entitled to unemployment benefits unless one of eight exceptions to disqualification applies.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1 (2002).  One of those exceptions is afforded to an employee who quits “because of a good reason caused by the employer.”  Id., subd. 1(1).  Another exception arises when the employee quits “because [a] serious illness or injury made it medically necessary that the [employee] quit.”  Id., subd. 1(7). 

I.

            The first issue is whether the commissioner’s representative erred in holding that Yaggy did not quit for good reason caused by the AADA.  A good reason caused by an employer is defined as a reason adverse to the worker for which the employer is responsible and one that would “compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed” rather than remain employed.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a) (2002).  “‘Good cause’ is defined as a reason that is substantial, reasonable, and compelling, not imaginary, trifling, or whimsical.”  Kehoe v. Minn. Dept. of Econ. Sec.,  568 N.W.2d 889, 890 (Minn. App. 1997).  The standard for good cause is reasonableness as applied to an average person.  Ferguson v. Dep’t of Employment Serv., 311 Minn. 34, 44 n.5, 247 N.W.2d 895, 900 n.5 (1976). 

Harassment may constitute good cause attributable to the employer.  Tru-Stone Corp. v. Gutzkow, 400 N.W.2d 836, 838-39 (Minn. App. 1987) (noting harassment involved calling employee names such as slime, scum, and son-of-a-bitch, making derogatory remarks about employee’s wife, and drawing uncomplimentary pictures of employee with profanities written underneath).  The harassment must be reported to the employer and the employer allowed an opportunity to correct the problem before the employee quits.  Id. at 838; see Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(b) (2002).

Personality conflicts do not constitute good cause.  Trego v. Hennepin County Family Day Care Ass’n., 409 N.W.2d 23, 26 (Minn. App. 1987); Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986).  In Portz, an employee was denied unemployment benefits after he claimed that he resigned because the supervisor assigned a co-worker easier tasks, the supervisor invited the co-worker, but not appellant, to lunch, and other disputed complaints.  397 N.W.2d at 13.  The court of appeals affirmed the determination that the employee did not resign for good cause attributable to the employer because the working conditions, including the poor relationship with his supervisor, did not give the employee good cause to quit.  Id. at 14.

Similarly here, Yaggy testified that her co-worker was passive-aggressive, gave her threatening glares and dirty looks, and used a vulgar, sarcastic tone of voice.  The commissioner’s representative found that this did not rise to the level of harassment but amounted to a poor relationship and personality conflict with a co-worker.  The representative also found that Yaggy did not give the AADA an opportunity to correct the situation because she did not complete the six-step grievance process.  Yaggy argues that because she first raised complaints concerning her co-worker eight months before her resignation, that this length of time in and of itself is sufficient to meet the requirement that she give her employer “a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions.”  See Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(b).  However, this is not a situation where we determine what factual conclusion we would reach.  That is the decision of the commissioner’s representative.  We only ask whether there is evidence that reasonably supports the conclusion that the employee quit without good cause attributable to the employer.  See Schmidgall, 644 N.W.2d at 804.  We conclude that there is evidence supporting the determination of the commissioner’s representative’s that once Yaggy began meeting with the facilitator, she did not inform the board that the meetings were not helping and that this permitted the commissioner’s representative to conclude that the board believed that the conflict was being remedied. 

II.

The next issue is whether the commissioner’s representative erred in finding that the serious illness exception did not apply.  In order for an employee to establish that she is not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because a serious injury made it medically necessary for her to quit, she must show that she “inform[ed] the employer of the serious illness or injury and request[ed] accommodation and no reasonable accommodation [was] made available.”  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(7). 

Relator was diagnosed with symptoms of acute stress disorder, but conceded that the psychologist suggested leaving as only one option.  Additionally, relator claimed that her employer knew of her illness, but the commissioner’s representative found the testimony of a previous board member more credible, in which the board member testified that the board did not know that the counseling she sought was work related until the exit interview.  See Whitehead v. Moonlight Nursing Care, Inc., 529 N.W.2d 350, 352 (Minn. App. 1995) (stating that appellate courts generally defer to the credibility determinations made by the commissioner’s representative).  Therefore, the record supports the commissioner’s representative’s finding that relator’s decision to quit did not qualify under the medical exception because she did not inform the employer of her illness and request  an accommodation.[1]

            Affirmed.



[1] Appellant argues that she was unable to take medication for her illness because of her Christian Science beliefs.  Because the commissioner’s representative denied benefits based on appellant’s failure to inform her employer of her illness, we do not reach the issue of whether appellant’s religious beliefs made is medically necessary to quit.