This opinion will be unpublished and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

A06-57

 

 

Aaron William Roberts,

Relator,

 

vs.

 

Lanier Worldwide, Inc.,

Respondent,

 

Department of Employment and Economic Development,

Respondent.

 

Filed January 16, 2007

Affirmed

Ross, Judge

 

Department of Employment and Economic Development

File No. 255451

 

 

Aaron Roberts, 11185 Lanewood Circle, Eden Prairie, MN 55344-4073 (pro se relator)

 

Jennifer Suich Frank, Lindquist & Vennum, PLLP, 4200 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402-2274 (for respondent Lanier Worldwide, Inc.)

 

Lee B. Nelson, Linda A. Holmes, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, First National Bank Building, Suite E200, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-1351 (for respondent Department of Employment and Economic Development)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Ross, Judge.

 

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

 

ROSS, Judge

 

Aaron Roberts quit his sales position with Lanier Worldwide, Inc., and appeals an unemployment law judge’s determination that he is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because he quit without a good reason caused by his employer. He asserts that the record does not support the unemployment law judge’s findings, that Lanier’s employees lied at the hearing, and that he was prejudiced when Lanier was temporarily disconnected from the telephonic hearing and his witness was unable to testify.  Because the record does not establish circumstances that would compel a reasonable person to quit, because we defer to the unemployment law judge’s credibility determinations, and because no evidence supports Roberts’s speculative claim of misconduct, we affirm.

FACTS

Aaron Roberts worked full-time as a senior sales representative for Lanier Worldwide, Inc., from April 2004 to April 2005.  Lanier sells and services office equipment.  The office where Roberts worked opened in the spring of 2004.  After about one year of employment, Roberts called his supervisor and quit.  He applied to the Department of Employment and Economic Development for unemployment benefits.  In his application, Roberts stated that he quit because “Lanier broke many promises and they have horrible service in an industry that is very service oriented.”  The department initially determined that Roberts was entitled to benefits, but Lanier appealed the decision.  Following a hearing, an unemployment law judge (ULJ) held that Roberts did not quit for a good reason caused by his employer.  In December 2005 the ULJ affirmed the order after considering Roberts’s request for reconsideration.  By writ of certiorari, Roberts appeals the ULJ’s determination.

D E C I S I O N

An employee who quits employment is generally disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1 (2004).  An exception exists, however, when the employee quits because of a good reason caused by the employer.  Id., subd. 1(1).  A good reason caused by the employer is a reason that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible, is adverse to the worker, and would compel an average reasonable worker to quit and be unemployed rather than stay with the present employer.  Id., subd. 3(a) (2004).  Whether an employee quit for a good reason caused by his employer is a question of law, which we review de novo.  Peppi v. Phyllis Wheatley Cmty. Ctr., 614 N.W.2d 750, 752 (Minn. App. 2000).  We give deference to the ULJ’s determinations of credibility and its factual findings.  Johnson v. Walch & Walch, Inc., 696 N.W.2d 799, 800 (Minn. App. 2005), review denied (Minn. July 19, 2005).  We will affirm an unemployment-benefits determination unless the ULJ’s findings are unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record or the decision is based on an error of law.  Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 7(d)(4)-(5) (Supp. 2005).

Substantial evidence supports the ULJ’s findings and his determination that Roberts did not quit for a good reason caused by his employer and is therefore disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  When asked by the ULJ why he quit his job, Roberts responded, “Basically, a lot of it was service-related.  [Lanier was] basically making promises to our customers and not keeping them.  Basically every account I sold that wasn’t a stand-alone copier had issues with installation and service.”  Although Roberts also contended that he quit because his commissions were paid late, he does not challenge on appeal the ULJ’s finding that he received his commissions on time.

As a preliminary matter, we question the theory of Roberts’s claims.  He does not assert that his employer made him specific promises that it did not fulfill, such as a certain level of compensation, causing him to quit.  See Hawthorne v. Universal Studios, Inc., 432 N.W.2d 759, 762 (Minn. App. 1988) (holding that if employer violated state law in delaying overtime pay and employee quit because of delay employee quit for good cause).  Neither does Roberts contend that Lanier made an unreasonable change in the terms of his employment.  See Rutten v. Rockie Int’l, Inc., 349 N.W.2d 334, 336 (Minn. App. 1984) (recognizing that unreasonable change in terms of employment may give employee good cause to quit).  Instead, as a salesman, Roberts bases his claim on his subjective dissatisfaction with the quality of the product and services he sold.  But an employee’s irreconcilable differences with an employer do not constitute good cause, and neither does mere dissatisfaction with working conditions.  Ryks v. Nieuwsma Livestock Equip., 410 N.W.2d 380, 382 (Minn. App. 1987).  There is no indication in the record that Lanier intended or welcomed the alleged quality deficiencies, even if they were as pronounced as Roberts asserts.  We need not determine whether Roberts’s claims have legal merit, however, because the record supports the finding that they have no factual merit.

At the hearing, Roberts made many broad assertions characterizing Lanier’s service as poor, but he failed to develop specific examples of widespread service problems and a work environment that would compel a reasonable person to quit.  See Haskins v. Choice Auto Rental, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 507, 511 (Minn. App. 1997) (noting standard of reasonableness is that as applied to average man or woman); Ryks, 410 N.W.2d at 382 (noting good reason to quit must be compelling, real, substantial, and reasonable).  To support his complaints about Lanier’s service, Roberts pointed to his required Lanier sales pitch, which included a performance promise guaranteeing a certain percentage of “up time” during which the equipment would work or Lanier would reimburse the client.  But he was unable to name any client for which this promise was not fulfilled.  Further, Kurt Ringley, a Lanier sales manager and Roberts’s immediate supervisor, also testified that a piece of equipment’s “up time” would be unaffected by the types of service problems Roberts alleged.

Most of Roberts’s claimed support for his complaints relates to NuAire, Inc., a client that Roberts retained but which declined to continue business with Lanier.  NuAire purchased one copier from Lanier and also entered a contract with Lanier for service on its other equipment.  A buyer from NuAire confirmed that NuAire chose to discontinue the service contract based on the “terrible” service it received from Lanier.  Roberts’s complaint about losing the account focused on the loss of future equipment sales to NuAire when it chose to upgrade its older equipment.  But NuAire’s older equipment was still on lease from another company for at least six months and Roberts had no guarantee that NuAire would buy equipment from Lanier whenever it chose to upgrade.

Shaun Prendergast, the district manager at the office where Roberts worked, acknowledged that Lanier could have done a better job with NuAire, butalso explained that a lot of the company’s equipment was old and in bad condition when Lanier took over its service.  He admitted that Lanier had made multiple service visits to NuAire, but also noted, “We inherited a fleet that needed fixing.”  Prendergast testified that Lanier ranks high in service, as measured by the times a technician fixes a problem the first time, by response time, and by other service-based criteria.  Ringley also testified that many of the service problems it had with NuAire related to the age and condition of NuAire’s equipment.  Because their machines were old, it was difficult for Lanier to find needed parts.  For example, when Lanier’s parent company confirmed that it no longer manufactured a part for one of NuAire’s printers, Lanier turned to nontraditional sources to secure the part and eventually obtained it through eBay.  The record supports the ULJ’s finding that Lanier attempted to improve service, that Roberts’s claim of lost future business was speculative, and that the nature of sales is competitive and includes occasionally losing clients.  Although Roberts contends on appeal that Ringley and Prendergast lied to the ULJ, we defer to the ULJ’s determinations of credibility.  See Johnson, 696 N.W.2d at 800 (noting deference appellate court gives to ULJ on matters of credibility).

As another “prime example of just overall complacency” asserted by Roberts, he pointed to a situation in which a machine failed during a demonstration for a potential client.  Roberts testified that he gave advance notice to Prendergast that Prendergast needed to order a part for the machine.  He first testified that Prendergast “forgot to do it” until the last minute, but then stated, “I don’t know that’s the case, but that’s [w]hat I think happened.”  Ringley testified that he had explained to Roberts that the part was ordered but on back order and would not arrive in time for the demonstration.  Ringley also noted that he explained the situation to the potential client before the demonstration.

Roberts points to several other indicators of the allegedly unbearable conditions at Lanier, primarily the company’s salesperson-turnover rate and the number of his complaints to management.  But Prendergast testified that Lanier’s turnover rate is lower than the industry average.  And while Ringley acknowledged that he and Roberts spoke occasionally about service, the record demonstrates that Lanier took steps to address service problems with NuAire: Prendergast wrote the company an apology, Ringley personally called the company to apologize, and Lanier reimbursed NuAire for money paid on the current contract and offered to extend NuAire’s service contract without charge.  Roberts was aware of these efforts.  His dissatisfaction with the company does not rise to the level of a good reason to quit caused by his employer.  Although Roberts may have disagreed with some of Lanier’s decisions and been dissatisfied with its responses to clients, a good reason to quit attributable to the employer “does not encompass situations where an employee experiences irreconcilable differences with others at work or where the employee is simply frustrated or dissatisfied with his working conditions.”  Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986).

Finally, Roberts asserts that he was prejudiced in the teleconference proceedings before the ULJ because one of his witnesses was unable to testify.  During Roberts’s testimony, Prendergast and Ringley were disconnected from the teleconference for unknown technical reasons.  Roberts’s witness, a former Lanier employee, faced a scheduling conflict and was unable to remain available to testify because of the delay caused by the disconnection.  Roberts’s assertion that Lanier’s employees intentionally disconnected the call is unsupported by the record.  Before the 1:00 p.m. hearing formally began, the parties agreed that it would be best for NuAire’s buyer to testify early, but Roberts never mentioned that his witness needed to leave for a 2:00 p.m. appointment.  The unfortunate situation is not plainly attributable to Lanier.  While trying to reconnect to Lanier, the ULJ also noted that “it sometimes happen[s] that people drop off the calls . . . I’m not sure why that is but it happens sometimes.”  Roberts’s claims of impropriety are speculative and unsupported by the record.

Affirmed.