This opinion will be unpublished and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
Northland Transportation, Inc.,
Department of Employment and Economic Development,
Filed December 19, 2006
Department of Employment and Economic Development
File No. 11726 05
Knapp, Paul D. Hallen (certified student attorney), William Mitchell Law
Linda A. Holmes, Lee B. Nelson, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN 55101-1351 (for respondent department)
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Relator challenges the decision of the unemployment law judge (ULJ) disqualifying him from unemployment benefits because he quit without good reason caused by the employer or, if he was discharged, he was discharged for misconduct. Relator argues that (a) he did not quit and instead was discharged from employment for reasons other than misconduct when he reasonably refused to drive a van that he believed to be unsafe; and (b) if he quit, it was for good reason caused by the employer. We hold that relator quit his job without good reason caused by the employer, and we affirm.
Relator Leon Williams worked as a van driver for Northland Transportation from May of 2003 until June of 2005. He generally drove a year-2000 Chevrolet van, although on one occasion he was assigned an older van. He was allowed to change back to the newer van when he complained about steering problems. In mid-June of 2005, Williams switched to a part-time schedule. His dispatcher then told him that he was being reassigned to the older van because he had changed shifts.
Williams testified that on the day he was told of his reassignment to the older van, he inspected it to ensure that it was safe to operate. When he examined the steering wheel he said that there was “two to three maybe even more inches” of give before the wheels on the ground would respond. He told the dispatcher about his safety concerns and said that he would not be driving that van. Williams testified that the dispatcher told him that he was self-terminated unless he switched vans. He also testified that he unsuccessfully attempted to contact one of the co-owners of the company. Williams then told the dispatcher that he would not switch vans but would finish up the day’s work, take the van home, and that the dispatcher could make arrangements for someone to pick the van up the next day. Williams did not return to work and had no further conversations with anyone from Northland after June of 2005.
The dispatcher testified and disagreed with William’s version of what happened. The dispatcher stated that when he told Williams that he had to switch vans, Williams was upset that he had to drive the older van and quit on the spot without first inspecting the vehicle or calling either co-owner. Additionally, the dispatcher testified that if Williams had complained about the safety of the vehicle, accommodations would have been made to provide him with another vehicle.
Williams established a benefit account with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), and a department adjudicator determined that Williams quit his employment with Northland without good reason caused by the employer and was therefore disqualified from receiving benefits. Williams appealed. In October of 2005, a de novo hearing was held before the ULJ, who issued findings of fact upholding DEED’s decision. Williams filed a request for reconsideration, and the ULJ affirmed the decision in December of 2005. This certiorari appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
Standard of Review
court will reverse a ULJ’s decision when it reflects an error of law, is
“arbitrary or capricious,” or the findings are “unsupported by substantial
evidence in view of the entire record . . . .” Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 7(d) (Supp.
court defers to the ULJ’s determinations regarding witness credibility and
conflicting evidence. Skarhus v. Davanni’s, Inc., 721 N.W.2d
340, 344 (Minn. App. 2006). “When the
parties have presented conflicting evidence on the record, this court must
defer to the [ULJ’s] ability to weigh the evidence; we may not weigh that
evidence on review.” Whitehead v. Moonlight Nursing Care, Inc.,
529 N.W.2d 350, 352 (
1. Voluntary Quit
Williams first argues that he was discharged from employment for reasons other than misconduct and that he did not quit. The ULJ held, and we agree, that “a greater weight of the evidence shows that Williams quit his employment.” A voluntary “quit from employment occurs when the decision to end the employment was, at the time the employment ended, the employee’s.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 2 (2004). “A discharge from employment occurs when any words or actions by an employer would lead a reasonable employee to believe that the employer will no longer allow the employee to work for the employer in any capacity.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 5(a) (2004).
Williams argues that the
dispatcher’s demand that he either drive an unsafe vehicle or face
“self-termination” constituted a discharge.
He cites Anson v. Fisher Amusement
Corp. for the premise that he did not voluntarily quit employment because
voluntary unemployment is the exercise of “a free-will choice and control” in
terminating the employment. 254
However, the ULJ determined, and substantial evidence supports the conclusion, that Williams quit and that he did so voluntarily. According to statute, an employee is discharged if the employer has led the employee to believe that the employee will not be allowed to continue to work “in any capacity.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 5(a) (2004) (emphasis added). The ULJ found that
[t]he preponderance of the evidence in this matter shows that Northland was willing to allow Williams to continue working for it after June 28, 2005 if he would drive [the older van]. Williams, however, chose to finish his route that day, drive the [newer] van home and not return to work.
When he was told that he had to drive the older van or else be discharged, the ULJ found credible the dispatcher’s testimony that Williams responded by stating that he quit. Williams did not attempt to get his assessment of the van’s safety confirmed, nor did he pursue other avenues of negotiation with the dispatcher or his employer, nor did he request any other accommodation.
Because this court can only overturn a ULJ’s determination if it reflects an error of law, is “arbitrary or capricious,” or the findings are “unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record,” we conclude that Williams quit his employment and was not discharged. Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 7(d) (Supp. 2005).
2. Good Reason Caused by the Employer
Williams next argues that, if he did
quit, it was for good reason caused by the employer. An employee who voluntarily quits is entitled to unemployment
benefits if the decision to quit is the result of a good reason caused by the
employer. Minn. Stat. § 268.095,
subd. 1(1) (2004). Whether an employee
quit for good reason caused by the employer is a question of law that this
court reviews de novo. Rootes v. Wal-Mart Assocs., Inc., 669
N.W.2d 416, 418 (
The issue is whether “the employer
made unreasonable demands of [the] employee that no one person could be
expected to meet.” Zepp v. Arthur Treacher Fish & Chips, Inc., 272 N.W.2d 262, 263 (
Here, a review of the facts
shows that Williams quit because of a reason directly related to his
employment, in that he was upset over the van he was required to drive. But he speculated about the van’s safety
without actually attempting to operate it and without seeking conformation of
the vans’s condition. It is unlikely
that, under these circumstances, a reasonable person would quit the employment
without giving the employer an opportunity to address the issue. Furthermore, the record indicates that
Williams had complained about driving older vans in the past and was generally
upset about being asked to change vans, and that he considered the newer van to
be his. The ULJ found, and we agree that, although “Williams may
have felt he had good personal reasons for quitting, a preponderance of the
evidence on record fails to show that he quit for a good reason caused by
Northland.” Because this court must
defer to the ULJ’s determinations regarding witness credibility and conflicting
evidence, we agree with the ULJ’s determination that Williams did not quit for
good reason caused by Northland. Jenson v. Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 617
N.W.2d 627, 631 (
Furthermore, Williams’ cursory inspection of the vehicle was inadequate to support his determination that driving the van would be unsafe. The record indicates that Williams merely “felt” that the wheels were not responsive enough; he did not ask anyone else to verify this assessment nor did he test the vehicle by actually driving it. The record shows that the van was officially inspected by the department of transportation earlier in the year and that nothing was wrong with the steering. Additionally, no other employees complained about the van, and it remained in service after June of 2005.
Even though employee misconduct was an issue on appeal, substantial evidence in the record supports the ULJ’s determination that Williams quit without good reason caused by the employer and was not discharged. Therefore, we need not address whether William’s refusal to drive the older van constituted misconduct.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals may affirm the decision of the unemployment law judge or remand the case for further proceedings; or it may reverse of modify the decision if the substantial rights of the petitioner may have been prejudiced because the findings, 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.