This opinion will be unpublished and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

A05-1942

 

 

Sandra J. Montague,

Relator,

 

vs.

 

Alphabet Junction Learning Center, LLC,

Respondent,

 

Department of Employment and Economic Development,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed April 25, 2006

Affirmed

Minge, Judge

 

 

Department of Employment and Economic Development

File No. 800205

 

 

Sandra J. Montague, 87 Kelly Road, Chaska, MN  55318-1277 (pro se relator)

 

Alphabet Junction Learning Center, LLC, 1661 Park Ridge Drive, Chaska, MN  55318-2841 (respondent)

 

Linda A. Holmes, Department of Employment and Economic Development, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN  55101-1351 (for respondent department)

 

            Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Ross, 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 quit without good reason caused by her employer, disqualifying her from receiving unemployment benefits.  Because we defer to the factual determinations of the senior unemployment review judge when reasonably supported in the record, we affirm.

FACTS

            Relator was employed as a part-time assistant teacher at Alphabet Junction Learning Center from August 2, 2004, through March 18, 2005, when she quit.  Relator and others cared for nine children, ages six weeks to sixteen months.  State regulations required one caregiver for every four children of this age.  The director testified that staff from another building are available to help out when needed to maintain the proper ratio.

            Relator testified that there was an incident on February 13 when she learned her section would be out of ratio during a time when she was not scheduled to work.  Although she offered to come in early, she was not called in to do so, and she noted that the staff was out of ratio when she arrived.  On February 16, relator wrote on her employee evaluation that she would not work out of ratio.  She maintained that the director did not respond.  The director testified that they had an informal discussion and that if relator had told her that she would not work out of ratio, that she would have responded that they are usually in compliance and that the procedure was to call for additional help.

            On March 2, relator told the director that staff members would be leaving early the next day and that they might have one more child to care for than regulations permitted.  The director testified that because of reduced attendance at that time of year due to illness, children often did not show up, that as a result the program might be adequately staffed, and that she asked relator to notify her the next day if additional staff was needed.  The next day, relator was caring for five children and was out of ratio for 40 minutes, but she did not call the director for assistance.  Relator testified that “[t]he morning girls did try calling” and that they all believed that because relator had called the director the day before, nothing more needed to be done because it would be taken care of.  The director testified that she was not aware of any problems regarding staffing ratios on the day in question, and that if relator had called for help, staff would have been available.

            Relator resigned as a result of the insufficient staffing on March 3.  She sought unemployment benefits, and the department determined that she did not quit for good reason caused by the employer.  Relator appealed, and, after a hearing, the unemployment law judge (ULJ) also determined that she did not quit for good reason caused by the employer.  The senior unemployment law judge (SURJ) reached the same result.  This certiorari appeal followed.

D E C I S I O N

            Appellate courts review findings by the SURJ in the light most favorable to the decision and will not disturb them as long as there is evidence in the record reasonably tending to sustain them.  Ress v. Abbott Nw. Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).  A determination of whether the department properly disqualified an employee from receiving unemployment benefits is a question of law reviewed de novo.  Markel v. City of Circle Pines, 479 N.W.2d 382, 384 (Minn. 1992); Munro Holding, LLC v. Cook, 695 N.W.2d 379, 384 (Minn. App. 2005).  When facts are in dispute, this court defers to factual determinations of the SURJ if reasonably supported by the record.  See Ress, 448 N.W.2d at 523; Munro, 695 N.W.2d at 384.

            An employee who quits employment is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits unless she quit because of a good reason caused by the employer.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2004).  The statute defines good reason caused by the employer for quitting as a reason:

                                    (1)       that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible;

 

                                    (2)       that is adverse to the worker; and

 

                                    (3)       that would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment.

 

Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a) (2004).

            The SURJ had to resolve conflicting testimony over how short-staffing was addressed.  Relator argues that she had good cause to quit because her room had one staffer for five children so that she was out of ratio by one child.  She asserts that her employer did not, as a rule, operate with additional staff on hand to accommodate shortages.  She contends that she and other staff were not aware that there was a policy that they should call for help on the day of the short-staffing.  Relator notes that there was no written policy to this effect until after she gave notice that she was going to quit.  She says the written policy was created March 8, which was after she gave her notice (March 4), but before her last day (March 18).

            The director testified that under the center’s policy, if they were out of ratio, staff was to call for assistance.  As to the incident leading to relator’s quit, the director testified that she told relator on March 2 to call on March 3 if she needed help.  She further testified that extra staff was available at another building.  She noted that the young children were often out sick at that time of the year and if one infant had been ill and not come to the center that day, they would not have been out of ratio.

            The SURJ accepted the director’s testimony, specifically finding that she told relator to call on March 3 if she needed help and that relator did not do so.  Further, the SURJ found that

                        [w]hile Alphabet Junction is responsible for maintaining staffing at its centers, it is not able to do so if employees do not keep them informed of staffing needs.  Montague was the only employee who could have done this and she failed to do so.  We conclude that the March 3rd incident was not caused by Alphabet Junction and Montague did not quit for a good reason caused by her employer.

 

            We are not insensitive to the importance of complying with state regulations, including required staffing ratios at child-care facilities.  We recognize that there are situations when the workplace is unsafe, employees are placed in an unacceptable work environment, the public is at risk, and corrective measures are needed.  However, this case does not present those circumstances.  There is no evidence of actual safety or unacceptable risk.  Although there is evidence that staffing ratios were not maintained, there are factual disputes whether Alphabet Junction had a responsive policy and whether relator complied with that policy.  This court is obliged to accept the SURJ’s factual determinations if they are reasonably supported by the record and decide this appeal in light of the facts as found by the SURJ.  Ress, 448 N.W.2d at 523; Munro, 695 N.W.2d at 384. 

            Here, the SURJ found that relator did not report the problem to the director on March 3 and that Alphabet Junction had staff who could have filled in.  Based on these findings, we conclude the SURJ did not err in determining that relator did not have good reason to quit caused by her employer, and we affirm the decision of the SURJ that relator is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.

            Affirmed.