This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Asia T. Smith,


ReliaStar Life Insurance Company,

Department of Employment and Economic Development,


Filed July 19, 2005


Minge, Judge


Department of Employment and Economic Development

File No. 12839 04



Asia T. Smith, 509 East Morton Street, Bethlehem, PA 18045 (pro se relator)


ReliaStar Life Insurance Company, P.O. Box 1160, Columbus, OH, 43216-1160 (respondent)


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


            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Parker, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


MINGE, Judge


Relator challenges the decision by the senior unemployment review judge that she was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because she was discharged for misconduct.  Because relator admitted that she signed a letter that falsely indicated that she was a supervisor and this letter was sent to an outside party, we affirm.



Relator Asia T. Smith worked as a billing coordinator for ReliaStar Life Insurance Company from February 16, 2001, until July 21, 2004.  A coworker, who had been a friend of the relator’s for three and a half years, asked relator to sign a letter as Supervisor of ReliaStar’s Employee Benefits, stating that the coworker’s position with ReliaStar was being eliminated and that the coworker was being offered another position with the employer in Washington.  Relator signed the letter.  Relator’s supervisor received a call from the recipient of the letter to verify the information in the letter.  The coworker admitted to drafting and sending the letter because she wanted to break her lease and move to Washington, but feared losing her housing benefits.  Relator and her coworker were discharged on July 21, 2004, because the fraudulent letter was a violation of ReliaStar’s Code of Conduct Policy. 

Relator filed for unemployment benefits and on August 9, 2004, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development determined that relator was disqualified because of misconduct.  On September 7, 2004, an unemployment law judge (ULJ) held a telephone hearing at which relator and the manager of ReliaStar’s billing department testified.  Relator testified that she did not read the letter before she signed it and denied signing the letter on the employer’s letterhead.  Relator’s supervisor testified that she had the original letter, which relator signed in blue ink and was on ReliaStar’s letterhead. 

The ULJ found that relator signed a letter on company letterhead.  The letter that relator signed was inaccurate because it stated that relator was the coworker’s supervisor, that the coworker’s position in Minnesota was being eliminated, and that the coworker was moving to Washington to do the same work there.  The ULJ also found that relator’s “conduct does display clearly a serious violation of a standard of behavior ReliaStar reasonably had the right to expect.”  The ULJ concluded that relator was discharged because of misconduct and denied unemployment benefits.  Relator appealed the ULJ determination to a senior unemployment review judge.  The senior unemployment review judge found that the determinative facts were not in dispute, declined to conduct further proceedings, and adopted the findings of fact and decision of the ULJ pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 2a (2004).[1]  Relator appealed by writ of certiorari.



            On certiorari appeal, we accord particular deference to the decision of the senior unemployment review judge.  Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995) (reviewing decision of commissioner’s representative).[2]  The determination of whether an employee committed a specific act of misconduct is a question of fact.  Scheunemann v. Radisson S. Hotel, 562 N.W.2d 32, 34 (Minn. App. 1997).  We review findings of fact made by the senior unemployment review judge in the light most favorable to the decision, and we will not reverse such findings if they are reasonably supported by the record.  Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996).  But whether specific acts constitute misconduct is a question of law that we review de novo.  Scheunemann, 562 N.W.2d at 34.

An employee who is discharged for misconduct is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 4(1) (Supp. 2003).[3]  “Employment misconduct” is defined as:

any intentional, negligent, or indifferent conduct, on the job or off the job (1) that evinces a serious violation of the standards of behavior the employer has the right to reasonably expect of the employee, or (2) that demonstrates a substantial lack of concern for the employment.


Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a) (Supp. 2003).  Employment misconduct does not encompass:

Inefficiency, inadvertence, simple unsatisfactory conduct, a single incident that does not have a significant adverse impact on the employer, conduct an average reasonable employee would have engaged in under the circumstances, poor performance because of inability or incapacity, good faith errors in judgment if judgment was required, or absence because of illness or injury with proper notice to the employer . . . .


Id.  But an employee’s decision to knowingly violate a reasonable policy of the employer is misconduct.  Schmidgall v. FilmTec Corp., 644 N.W.2d 801, 806 (Minn. 2002).

            Relator committed a serious violation of the employer’s standards of behavior by signing a fraudulent letter which misstated relator’s title and implied that relator was a coworker’s supervisor.  See Baron v. Lens Crafters, Inc., 514 N.W.2d 305, 307-08 (Minn. App. 1994) (“dishonesty that is connected with employment may constitute misconduct”).  Relator admits that she signed the letter and that the conduct was inappropriate.  But she argues that this was a single act of misconduct, which did not have a significant adverse impact on the employer because the letter was not sent to employer’s clients, did not become public knowledge, and did not affect the employer’s revenue. 

In fact, the fraudulent letter was sent to a third party and demonstrates relator’s lack of concern for her employer’s interests.  Moreover, the unemployment law judge found that the letter was sent on company letterhead.  This adversely affects the ability of the employer to control its communications and portrays a false image of the employer.  Although relator testified that the letter was not on company letterhead, the ULJ credited the testimony of relator’s supervisor in finding that the letter relator signed was on company letterhead, and such credibility assessments are entitled to deference by appellate courts.  See Whitehead v. Moonlight Nursing Care, Inc.,529 N.W.2d 350, 352 (Minn. App. 1995) (“When the parties have presented conflicting evidence on the record, this court must defer to the Commissioner’s ability to weigh the evidence; we may not weigh that evidence on review”).  The fraudulent letter signed by relator, which was sent to a third party, supports the senior unemployment review judge’s denial of unemployment benefits to relator based on misconduct.


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] This court applies the statute in effect at the time of the employee’s discharge.  Brown v. Nat’l Am. Univ., 686 N.W.2d 329, 332 (Minn. App. 2004), review denied (Minn. Nov. 16, 2004).  The 2003 statute became effective on August 1, 2003.  See Minn. Stat. § 645.02 (2004) (explaining that legislation “takes effect on August 1 next following its final enactment”).  Because relator was discharged on July 21, 2004, this court applies the 2003 version of the statute in reviewing relator’s discharge.  But we rely on the statute in effect at the time of the unemployment benefits hearings for determining the proper administrative procedure.  Here we apply the 2004 procedural statute because the 2004 statute took effect on August 1, 2004, and the Department of Employment and Economic Security did not deny relator’s benefits until August 9, 2004.  2004 Minn. Laws ch. 183, § 71 (“This section is effective August 1, 2004, and applies to all decisions issued by the department on or after that date”).

[2] The legislature substituted the term “senior unemployment review judge” for the commissioner’s representative.  2004 Minn. Laws ch. 183, § 71.

[3]  The revisor’s office inadvertently substituted the term “ineligible for” for the term “disqualified from” in Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subds. 1, 4, 7, 8(a) (Supp. 2003).  See Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subds. 1, 4, 7, 8(a) (2002) (using term “disqualified from”); 2003 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. ch. 3, art. 2, § 11 (making other changes to Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1, but retaining term “disqualified from”); 2003 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. ch. 3, art. 2, § 20(j), (k) (directing revisor to change the term “disqualified from” to “ineligible for” only in Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 12, and then to renumber the subsection to Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 13b).