This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Southwest Hearing Aid Center, Inc.,
Department of Employment and Economic Development,
Filed June 6, 2006
Dawn M. Knutson, Martin & Squires, P.A., 444 Cedar Street, Suite 2050, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Southwest Hearing Aid Center)
Linda A. Holmes, Department of Employment and Economic Development, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN 55101-1351 (for respondent Department)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Relator Jean M. Duran challenges the decision of the unemployment-law judge (ULJ) that she is disqualified from receiving benefits because she quit her employment without a good reason caused by the employer. We affirm.
Relator worked as a sales
person and office manager for respondent Southwest Hearing Aid Center, Inc.
from March 2000 until she quit on May 3, 2005.
Southwest had a main office in
Relator testified that Southwest was a good employer and that she was happy with her initial four and one-half years of employment. In 2004 Southwest encouraged relator to pursue her own hearing-aid licensing so that she could take on more responsibility. Mrs. Henning testified that she thought relator could become her partner and by August 2004, relator was considered a trainee working under Mrs. Henning.
In early 2005, relator became frustrated with her working conditions at Southwest. She felt that Mrs. Henning routinely became emotional, yelled, made offensive comments, singled out and attacked relator, and generally created an uncomfortable atmosphere in the office. At the hearing, relator described certain incidents, primarily over the last three months of her employment, that she felt demonstrated “an intolerable working environment.”
Relator testified that in late January 2005, Mrs. Henning became upset with her after she submitted payroll requests, some of which included overtime pay for a co-worker. Mrs. Henning questioned relator as to the justification of the overtime pay and announced to the staff that she was having a bad day and consequently everyone else in the office would also have a bad day. Relator felt that such a comment was sarcastic and directed at her in an inappropriate, loud, and outraged tone of voice.
In February 2005, relator made arrangements to transport two clients to a hearing-aid service center. When confronted by Mrs. Henning, relator explained her good intentions and apologized for failing to notify or get approval from Mrs. Henning.
In March 2005, Mrs. Henning confronted a co-worker regarding some paperwork. The discussion became loud and emotional, especially when another worker interjected on behalf of the co-worker. Eventually, Mrs. Henning asked relator for her opinion, but relator did not feel that she could be candid.
By late April 2005, relator felt that she had to quit because Mrs. Henning was subjecting her to continuous verbal abuse, hostility, and personal attacks. Relator then submitted her resignation and two-week notice and left Southwest on May 3.
The department adjudicator
initially determined that relator was disqualified because she quit her
employment without a good reason caused by the employer. Relator appealed, and after a de novo
hearing, the ULJ reached the same conclusion.
requested reconsideration, and the ULJ reconsidered. The ULJ reaffirmed its earlier decision. Relator now seeks certiorari review.
The legislature has provided that this court may affirm the ULJ’s decision, remand it for further proceedings, or reverse or modify it
if the substantial rights of the petitioner may have been prejudiced because the finding(s), inferences, conclusion or decision are:
(1) in violation of constitutional provisions;
(2) in excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the department;
(3) made upon unlawful procedure;
(4) affected by other error of law;
(5) unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted; or
(6) arbitrary or capricious.
Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 7(d) (Supp. 2005). An employee who quits without good reason
caused by the employer is disqualified from receiving unemployment
benefits. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd.
1(1) (2004). Accordingly, the
determination that an employee quit without good reason attributable to the
employer is a legal conclusion, but the conclusion must be based on findings
that have the requisite evidentiary support.
See Zepp v. Arthur Treacher Fish & Chips, Inc., 272 N.W.2d
262, 263 (
“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; (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). Relator argues that she had a good reason caused by the employer to quit, claiming that Mrs. Henning created an intolerable atmosphere in the office by subjecting her to verbal abuse, hostility, and attacks.
The ULJ found that relator believed she was being personally attacked by Mrs. Henning and felt she had no option but to quit. The ULJ also found that Mrs. Henning “was, at times, emotional. At times, she raised her voice. The atmosphere at work was, at times, intense.” But the ULJ concluded that, put in the context of the small-business environment at Southwest, Mrs. Henning’s conduct was “not so frequent or extreme as to exceed reasonable bounds.” The ULJ indicated that this was a case of dissatisfaction with working conditions and a supervisor, but even irreconcilable differences with an employer do not constitute a good reason to quit. The record supporting Mrs. Henning as a normal boss with a loud voice is thin, but, giving deference to the fact-finder, we conclude the ULJ’s findings are supported by the record.
The evidence supports the
finding that Southwest was, at times, an intense environment for all parties
during the months in question. Relator
testified that she understood Mrs. Henning to be a “very emotional person.” Mr.
Henning testified that relator complained to him that she was upset because she
lacked sufficient time to study for an upcoming licensing exam. Similarly, Mrs.
Henning brought in an additional employee so relator would have more time to
prepare for the licensing exams because she also thought that relator was
stressed by the exam and parenting issues.
Mrs. Henning also stated that expenses were rising, she needed to watch
spending and production to try
to keep the costs of hearing aids down, and she questioned whether work was being performed when she was out of the office.
Relator complains about Mrs. Henning’s yelling. Mrs. Henning admitted that she speaks loudly. The record does not support relator’s claim. A former Southwest employee testified that Mrs. Henning did not actually yell but used a loud voice. Another employee still working at Southwest at the time of the hearing testified that Mrs. Henning does not yell at her in the office. Relator stated, when pressed for more details, “One day yes, she was shouting at me.” The record does not show that Mrs. Henning’s “yelling” was a significant issue in the office.
Relator testified that she was frightened by Mrs. Henning’s remarks and outraged tone, but did not provide many specific examples. Although the former Southwest employee testified that she had witnessed relator crying after leaving Mrs. Henning’s office, she did not hear what was said in the office. When questioned by the ULJ, relator testified regarding some remarks that she found offensive; Mrs. Henning would often remind her that she signed the paycheck, would make “snide” remarks and then walk away, stated that she was the boss and she would make the rules, and once told all the employees to have a bad day because she was having a bad day. These remarks might have been offensive to relator, but fall short of actionable harassment entitling an employee to both quit and qualify for unemployment benefits.
Relator argues that she was singled out and attacked by Mrs. Henning on several occasions. She contends it was inappropriate for Mrs. Henning to ask relator to write out her job description and keep a daily timesheet of her activities. For both requests, Mrs. Henning explained her business reasons for asking relator to perform the tasks, and there is no evidence to show these tasks were unreasonable demands on relator.
Relator’s qualification for employment benefits turns on whether the environment at Southwest would “compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3. The ULJ concluded that the evidence did not support a finding of an “intolerable environment.” Even if the record did reveal an intolerable environment, an employee must give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(c) (2004). The record shows that on occasions when relator complained, the employer did attempt to accommodate relator.
Relator was frustrated and dissatisfied with her working conditions, but, on this record, we cannot find working conditions attributable to the employer so intolerable that an average person would not work there. See Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986) (resigning is not good cause attributable to employer when employee experiences irreconcilable differences with others at work or when employee is simply frustrated or dissatisfied with his working conditions).